Guest Blogger: Deeawn Roundtree
In undergraduate school, my priority was to graduate as soon as possible; in graduate school my priority was to become an expert in my chosen field. While pursuing my doctoral degree, my priority was to fully understand what was being taught in order to become a proficient professor. Like many college students, I needed to take quantitative courses such as math, science, statistics, quantitative analysis and disciplinary inquiry, just to name a few. Realizing that my strengths lie on the qualitative vs. quantitative side of academia, I desperately sought tutoring since classroom instruction was not sufficient for me. The reasons I needed to seek additional help were as follows:
1. Classroom instruction did not provide the one-on-one attention that I needed.
2. Classmates were at differing levels of learning and understanding.
3. My college professors did not speak English clearly.
4. I wanted a deeper understanding of the course material.
5. I wanted to pass the course.
Now that I have been teaching college students for more than 10 years, 9 years as an adjunct professor and 1.5 years as a full time professor, my passion is to ensure that my students fully understand what I am teaching. Over the years, I have listened to students complain particularly about their inability to understand their professors who teach quantitative courses, primarily because of the professors’ foreign accent and/or their teaching style. What can we do as professors to ensure that our students, who are paying thousands of dollars for an education, graduate with greater knowledge and understanding of the course material being taught in the classroom?
According to Felder (2002), there are differences in learning styles and differences in teaching styles and when there are mismatches, students become bored, discouraged and some even drop out of school. I have witnessed students being distraught, outraged and frustrated from their inability to understand the course material, not being engaged and not having the support they needed to help them to learn.
In addition to the various teaching styles of professors and learning styles of students, the language barrier between the professor and student can also be a hindrance for student learning outcomes and their increased dissatisfaction in the classroom. According to a study by Kavas (2008), 70% of students stated that a professor’s foreign accent and pronunciation affects their ability to learn the course material. I have listened to many students complain about their inability to understand what a professor is saying. This consequently results in the students’ inability to understand the course work and to pass the class. From the students’ perspectives, these complaints are not acknowledged. Some suggestions to help students and teachers to overcome these barriers are as follows by Felder (2002) and Kavas (2008):
* Evaluate professors’ teaching and learning styles to ensure that they are connecting with the students.
* Bring in a student or outside translator to help students understand a professor with a foreign accent.
* Teach students with English as their first language how to listen and understand a professor who has a foreign accent.
* Evaluate the communication barriers that exist in the classroom.
Felder, Richard M. (2002). Learning and teaching styles in engineering education. Engineer Education, 78(7), 674-681.
Kavas, A., & Kavas, A. (2008). An exploratory study of undergraduate college students’ perceptions and attitudes toward foreign accented faculty. College Student Journal, 42(3), 879-890.