With students under stress in these difficult times, faculty must adopt caring practices


In the bad old days of college education, especially in technical subjects, professors would stand in front of a class of freshmen and say, “Look right, look left. One of them will not graduate. The idea was that fear of failure would motivate students to do whatever it took to stay above water academically.

But these days, more faculty are taking a more caring approach to teaching — a compassionate response to the collective trauma wrought by the COVID pandemic and other challenges facing students today. This became clear to me a few months ago when I gave a talk on the benefits of active learning to over 75 New York University professors. In a survey of participants, I asked them to identify the engaging teaching methods they use online and in person. What came back was a flood of responses with dozens of approaches, showing that this audience was very thoughtful and caring about how to encourage students to participate and succeed online and on campus.

“There is a lot more motivation when students perceive they have more choice and control,” says Bahriye Goren, a visiting clinical assistant professor who teaches courses in competitive strategy and digital marketing. “We want students to feel like we’re caring for them – that we’re helping them learn – rather than just seeing us as authorities.”

Yael Israel, an assistant professor who teaches project management courses, agrees. “Our practice is to care about how our students learn, to value each student’s journey, and to open pathways where they feel safe to express themselves at their best.

Goren and Israel argue that the emphasis on benevolence in teaching stems not directly from what has come to be called the ethics of benevolence, but from their own experience of students’ needs. Yet I was intrigued by their recognition of caring as essential to effective student engagement. So I explored the notion of benevolent pedagogy and discovered, to my surprise, that it dates back to the 1930s and 1940s, to the pioneering work of Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, noted in science learning circles among the founders of social science. constructivist theory. Later, Stanford University educational philosopher Nel Noddings extended it to a broader ethical concept.

The ethics of care differs in crucial ways from the ethical philosophy of the 18th and 19th centuries, which was largely based on duty or utility and supported by reason and logic, following universal and objective rules. In contrast, the ethics of care depends on emotional qualities, such as compassion and empathy. Vygotsky pointed out that feelings and cognitive ability are not separate; his classic research concluded that they formed together.

Online or in person, caring pedagogy blends student-centered learning in a safe and responsive student-teacher relationship. Unlike a nurse caring for an invalid or a parent raising a child, caring in higher education is an interpersonal practice, with teachers and students in complementary roles – listening attentively to each other, understanding each other, sympathizing, trusting, respecting and depending on each other — attributes that go hand in hand with active learning.

Active Learning Faculty Support

I wondered what made the difference. Why have so many faculty in NYU’s School of Professional Studies’ Division of Business Programs embraced active learning, while faculty elsewhere often resist or ignore it?

As expected, numerous studies reveal a great reluctance among professors to give up conventional lectures, with many stating that they do not have enough time in class or that they do not have enough time to develop materials for active approaches. Other studies show that professors simply do not have the time to devote themselves to teaching in the midst of other professional responsibilities, since most tenure and promotion guidelines emphasize research. rather than teaching. Why should an aspiring teacher adopt alternative teaching strategies when it might not mean much to get a promotion?

But perhaps the biggest obstacle is departmental culture. If your department doesn’t support active learning, why should you?

NYU’s Corporate Programs Division is a place that encourages faculty to adopt active teaching techniques. The school strives vigorously to upgrade faculty to teach in new and engaging ways. Hosting 4-6 faculty workshops per semester, attended by up to 75, and sometimes many more – up to 120 – with each session introducing a new learning tool, giving participants a chance to practice with others in real time.

“Professors have been educated throughout their college life in lecture mode, and that’s what they replicate in their own classrooms as instructors,” says Negar Farakish, assistant dean of the division. “Our main message is to show that faculty can move effectively from lecture to active and experiential learning, leaving each workshop with two or three very practical points. Working in small groups, teachers share their experiences and best practices with each other. This gives them the opportunity to quickly adopt new teaching approaches and techniques.

In addition to attending workshops, novice instructors must go through a 25-week induction process during which experienced teachers closely monitor them, offering alternative methods and giving them helpful tips to excel.

Urgent Care

College students today face far more than common stresses caused by daily struggles with motivation, test anxiety, procrastination and time management. They live under a cloud of massive gun violence, student debt, rampant racism and now the brutal war in Ukraine.

The pandemic has not only unleashed a devastating disease, but has caused collateral damage to students, causing them to suffer emotional turmoil at increasingly disturbing rates – misery teachers say they have never encountered any before.

A new report from PsychologyToday says rates of depression among college students have doubled over the past decade, with 66% of college students experiencing overwhelming levels of anxiety. More disturbingly, the report found that suicide is the second most common cause of death among college students.

Colleges can no longer continue as before, as if these realities can be swept away. Our faculty now has a new and deeper obligation, not only to open students’ minds to intellectual discovery, but also to transform the classroom into a benevolent refuge from cultural and economic abuse.

It makes perfect sense that studies show that when college students are taught in a caring environment, motivation, desire to succeed, and enjoyment increase with improved attendance and attentiveness, increased study time and increased course enrollment.

Active learning is not just a collection of teaching tricks, but has a deeper and more meaningful implication for higher education. It encompasses philosophical and psychological ideas that place the care of our students at the very heart.


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