Has It Become Harder to Connect With College Students?

EdSurge Podcast

Has It Become Harder to Connect With College Students?

By Jeffrey R. Young     Jun 13, 2023

Has It Become Harder to Connect With College Students?

This article is part of the guide: The EdSurge Podcast.

Many professors are struggling to connect with their students these days. First the pandemic forced emergency remote learning, where professors had fewer avenues to see and interact with students the way they were used to doing in person. Then the sudden rise of ChatGPT late last year has left many professors wondering if the work students are submitting flows from their own minds or was written by an AI bot.

“I see so many people so hungry for connection with students,” says Bonni Stachowiak, dean of teaching and learning at Vanguard University of Southern California and host of the weekly podcast Teaching in Higher Ed (and columnist for EdSurge).

When we talked to Stachowiak for the EdSurge Podcast at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, her advice on how college professors could adapt to the sudden move to online education became one of our most popular episodes ever. It’s now three years later, and we decided to check back in with this teaching expert to learn what she sees as the biggest challenges at this moment.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts, or use the player on this page. Or read a partial transcript below, lightly edited for clarity.

EdSurge: Last year at this time, the big topic was the metaverse. That was when Facebook changed its name to Meta and lots of folks were wondering if all kinds of sectors would be moving to new virtual reality spaces. But I don’t hear much about that these days, especially not in education. What does it mean that that didn’t take off in education?

Bonni Stachowiak: Last week we watched the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference … and they released their … augmented reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro.

But they were very particular as marketers, they emphasized that as you’re wearing this thing, you are also still able to quickly be present where you are. What that tells me is that their research has shown them how much we wish to still be able to be present. … They very much intentionally wanted to position themselves away from the metaverse, which is kind of like you're in this whole world off by yourselves.

Some have said that the pandemic was a bit of a wake-up call for many professors of the challenges their students were facing, and that going online forced many to rethink their teaching practices. How much do you think teaching has really changed at colleges?

My sense is that the most egregious things [by professors] that really did not use the fundamental tools we ought to be using, that there's now greater accountability.

I'll give you an example. In this day and age students need to be able to see where they stand in a class. They should not go through an entire 16-week semester and wonder what their grade is going to be because they've gotten no feedback. There's no grade book, there's no assignments. I certainly have been aware that there would be faculty who literally, you turn in one midterm, you turn in a final or maybe a paper, and students do not have any idea whether you passed or failed the class. So that's the kind of stuff, I'm just seeing way, way less of that.

At the very minimum universities around the world are claiming their values, naming them and making attempts to try to better the experiences for historically marginalized populations in those spaces.

Are we having a great awakening? No. There definitely continues to be those who say, ‘I'd just like to go back to again, back to normal.’

What is the most surprising thing you've learned in the last year of doing your podcast on college teaching?

It comes back to some fundamental questions. So many episodes that I've done recently are about artificial intelligence, and so many are about mental health and these challenges. Yet those things have existed. Why do those issues feel so overwhelming to us? That's been there all along, a sense of identity and wanting to show up in our work in caring ways, though also wanting to challenge [students].

I got to speak to Sarah Rose Cavanagh. She recently released a book “Mind Over Monsters” about youth mental health, and it's part memoir and part research, and she talks about ‘compassionate challenge.’ And I thought there's really no better way than that to explain my sense of mission in teaching. I like to have it be challenging.

To hear the entire conversation, listen to the episode.

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