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Student-Authored Book to Help Professors Be Better Teachers

Joe Grimm

In most college classrooms, it’s the professor who is in charge, holds all the cards, wields the power. And if a student has a problem with that professor, it sometimes goes unresolved.

In an effort to level that playing field, make professors more sensitive to students’ needs and, ultimately, make them better teachers, a Michigan State University journalism class has published a book in which students are able to voice their classroom concerns.

“To my Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching” not only asks the tough questions, but provides answers to those questions.

“We view this as a resource for college teachers, from adjuncts to full professors, who want to be better teachers,” said Joe Grimm, editor-in-residence in MSU’s School of Journalism who teaches the class that produced the book.

The book includes a wide-ranging collection of student stories about various situations they’ve encountered with instructors, everything from ethnic and religious insensitivities, the use of bad language in the classroom, sexist and gender issues and many more.

The class used several methods to collect ideas from their fellow students, including personal interviews, social media and even hallway billboards in which students filled out 3X5 cards answering the question, “Did you ever want to tell a professor something but couldn’t?”

Once the questions were gathered and organized, the class sought answers from a number of sources, such as higher-education experts, master teachers and others.

“To my Professor” is the latest book to be produced by students in the journalism class responsible for the “Bias Busters: Guides to Cultural Competence” series. Eighteen students contributed to this latest book, with each writing two or three chapters.

“It’s hard to be a college professor these days,” Grimm said. “Your university is asking you to do many things, technology is changing, students are changing. It’s a tough spot to be in.”

Grimm said they weren’t only looking for problems that needed solved, but also for what works.

“We have some hero stories to go along with the horror stories,” he said. “For example, there’s the story of a teacher who learned American Sign Language so he could better communicate with a deaf student.”

Grimm said working with his students on the book has affected his own style of teaching for the better.

“I’ve changed my syllabus and the way I try to teach in and out of the classroom,” he said. “If nothing else, the book will help one professor become better, and that’s me.”

The project was proposed by Kami Silk, associate dean of research and director of the Master’s of Health and Risk Communications program in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. It was funded by the MSU Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives.

To obtain copies of the “To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching,” visit Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Google Play or iTunes. A custom edition with nine pages of MSU resources is available from Grimm.

– Tom Oswald, Joe Grimm vai MSU Today

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