Magazine article ASEE Prism

Professors Need to Lighten Up

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Professors Need to Lighten Up

Article excerpt

IT IS WELL KNOWN that large numbers of capable students leave engineering programs before graduation. Why? Largely, it is because of inaccessible and unapproachable faculty. This is the conclusion of a study that I conducted at four large, highly ranked West Coast universities. The research included a survey of 713 engineering students and advanced statistical modeling.

Self-efficacy has been found to be the major determinant of academic success. The term refers to a student's belief in his or her capability to organize and execute the steps necessary for success in a specific domain, such as engineering. Given two students of approximately equal ability, the one with the greater self-efficacy will most likely get higher grades.

I found that self-efficacy was directly and positively influenced by faculty approachability and negatively affected by faculty distance. Thus, a professor's interactions with students are crucial to student performance. Many engineering faculty members "intuitively" know this and also know that how approachable they are has an impact on student retention. However, the way a teacher interacts with students is seldom accorded the importance it deserves. The teaching and education component of a professor's annual review will often be confined to a sentence or two stating whether a professor did or did not perform the required amount of teaching. Research universities, in particular, often make a half-hearted attempt to encourage faculty to be more effective teachers.

Given the clear link between students' self-efficacy and the climate that exists in the classroom, professors need to work on developing a better rapport with students. They need to show that they are personally accessible and approachable. Often, small changes can make a major difference, such as showing an interest in students, sharing personal information, and advising students on research projects. …

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