Fifty years ago, I would have struggled in school. Luckily for me, technological advancements have enabled students from different learning backgrounds to find a method that works best for them. For students like me, having visual aids in a classroom helps me focus and highlights the material I need to know. But not all professors accommodate for this.
This semester, I’m currently taking a political science course about international politics in a specific region. The topic jumped out at me on the schedule of classes because I know little about politics in this area, and I was looking forward to widening my academic horizons. However, after several classes without any technology, I realized my professor would be giving all his lectures without a PowerPoint or any visual aides. It was just him, pacing back and forth in front of his 45 students for 75 minutes. This is an inconvenience for me, and for many other students, because I can’t discern which part of his lecture is the most important. But for others, this is a near impossible way to learn.
For students with disabilities, professors with teaching styles that aren’t engaging can throw a wrench into their already busy college schedule. Students with learning disabilities such as ADHD will likely find lecture-only courses to be ineffective and feel it’s impossible to learn from them. While students who are registered with Disability Support Services have access to resources, professors shouldn’t only adjust when a DSS student is enrolled in their course. They should always be accessible. In a case study from 2015, visual aids were shown to be helpful for both students and teachers. A class full of comprehending students leads to a happy professor who can then further challenge students. Professors need to communicate with students and evaluate the best method for them to effectively learn. Without a conversation at the start of a course, professors and students are at risk of spending the entire class at a disadvantage.
By having a course taught only orally, students are less focused on the material and more focused on jotting down the entire lecture. Although professors shouldn’t be forced to adjust their teaching style by incorporating technology, they should create a means to inform students about the vital parts of their lectures. Many professors already do this by uploading PowerPoint slides, but for students whose professors don’t, they are down a resource. Supplements like PowerPoints or a daily agenda, and alternative teaching methods – like round-table discussions or videos – that go along with the course, can be helpful for students as a guide to lectures and as a reference for studying.
Professors will likely find that most students want a visual aid to help comprehend material. After talking to classmates in my current course and students who are dealing with similar situations, I found that for most of them, having a visual aid – whether that is a PowerPoint, a handout or key words written on the whiteboard – helps them make both an auditory and visual connection with the material. By being more visually involved with the material, students are able to retain more information. There have been several instances this semester where my professor has gone over material and I wasn’t quick enough to type his words. And I’m discouraged from stopping to ask my classmates what the professor said in fear that I’ll miss out on even more material. This cycle creates obstacles that stand in the way of me fully comprehending each lecture.
I understand that many professors at universities, especially at GW, didn’t spend much of their time learning teaching styles and likely didn’t pursue a teaching degree. They’ve spent years, sometimes even decades, in their field and have become experts in areas like economics, international affairs and political science. A solution from the University to prevent students from ending up in classes that don’t work with their learning style can be to allow student evaluations to be made public in order to inform students about professors’ teaching styles in advance. But these reviews might not be helpful if there is only one professor who teaches a specific course, or if the professor is new to the school.
Professors should be conscious of how they teach. If a professor is lecturing the class without visual aides, they should adjust by creating material, such as a handout outlining key points, to make their courses more accessible. If professors have the means to use multimedia sources to engage their students, then they should do so. Students who don’t need aides can continue to pay attention to the lecture while other students can use both resources to their advantage.
If the University or its professors don’t make the effort to teach students who learn better under different teaching styles, then it doesn’t matter whether the professor is an expert or not. I haven’t walked into any course expecting the information to be easy, but with a teaching style that goes against my learning style, my politics class has transformed from a truly interesting course with a qualified professor into a tedious requirement.
Perhaps my professor has some tricks up his sleeve and will implement visual aides or PowerPoints in the future, but if the semester goes as it has gone so far, I’m afraid that I might spend an entire course not learning as much as I could be.
Renee Pineda, a junior majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.
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