During the last five years, my students have always highly rated me for my availability and accessibility. I regularly make time available for supplemental informal gatherings before major assignments are due, where I address any problems students may have with their assignments. In addition to keeping regular office hours and replying immediately to student emails, I create and organize an online list server for each course, which I use to send news and materials about the course, open thought-provoking discussions, and conduct an online class (one session per course). A significant outcome of these kinds of virtual activities is that students who are not, for whatever reason, inclined to participate and interact in the atmosphere of a classroom or in other face-to-face scenarios, are commonly active participants in these electronic fora. Virtual educational activities are in particular significant for students who come from non-English societies with different cultures and traditions and usually with lower competence or confidence in English than native speakers. Hence, it seems to me unfair to evaluate students solely based on what they do in the classroom.
I not only encourage students to share their critical viewpoints on my teaching, both in context and in form, but also make every effort to apply them practically to refine my teaching practices. For example, I personally listen empathetically to students and make notes on their comments, suggestions and concerns, in order to categorize their points and to think about how to apply them in various aspects of my teaching approaches. In the middle of the term, I ask students to write a journal reflection, either exclusively submitted to me or post it to the electronic list server of the course, about their thoughts on the quality of the class, what they like, what they think needs to be changed, and methods to improve the quality of the class. I closely and carefully read their comments and employ the main points in my further teaching.
I have gained immensely from my students’ comments and feedback and have implemented many of their suggestions. My students feel empowered in the classroom, since they recognize that I take their comments seriously. For example, I learned that participants in class enjoy the teaching context. However, that does not mean they want it to be a circus. Through the years, my students’ comments have revealed that they really value instructional, intellectual perspective, and well-structured lectures. Hence, I have realized that posting a weekly Powerpoint summary of my lecture on the electronic list server plays an important role in giving coherency and consistency to the course.