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Category: Evaluation and Feedback

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Research work exploring faculty–student relationships continues, and it provides deeper insights than course evaluation into the role of these relationships in promoting learning. All the work up to this point, in one way or another, confirms how important teacher–student relationships are. Sadly, it also attests to how often the relationships don't exist or are not positive. In this study, the questions related to how students perceive their relationships with faculty and what the most powerful predictors of those perceptions are.

The work involved creation of a multidimensional instrument that 836 residence hall students completed. The instrument contained nine items that measure the extent to which faculty members, including the following: show they care, won't admit mistakes, help students find answers to important questions, and serve as role models. The instrument also included 18 adjectives that students in focus groups had used to describe their experiences with faculty, including the following: frustrating, annoying, discouraging, understanding, attentive, genuine, and outgoing.

“The 9-item Perception of Faculty Scale . . . supports the premise that a positive student–faculty relationship must be supported by authentic faculty interest in students and their pursuit of knowledge. . . . Faculty who show students they care, then support students' journey toward finding important answers, are the most highly correlated themes” (Mueller, 2017, p. 108). A bit further they write, “When student relationships with faculty members are positive, it builds their perception of their own worth related to others.” (Mueller, 2017, p. 108)

Testing the 18 adjective attributes indicated three factors with Eigenvalues above 1. The first of these, detrimental, explained over 27 percent of the variance in the factored model. The second, beneficial, explained almost 23 percent of the variance, and the third, experiential,explained just under 14 percent of the variance. Unfortunately, this demonstrates that students' perception of faculty is predominantly negative, and when students perceive professors as “aggravating,” “frustrating” (the top two adjectives in the detrimentalfactor), “annoying,” “irritating,” and “belittling,” exhibiting “such behaviors is not likely to create a positive relationship with students that is conducive to engagement and learning.” (Mueller, 2017, p. 112)

Instructors who students perceive as beneficialare “respectful,” “understanding,” “caring,” “attentive,” and “genuine.” Those perceived as experientialare “comforting,” “exciting,” and “outgoing.”

 It's easy to digress into an analysis of whether these kinds of perceptions should matter—aren't courses about learning content and developing skills? Why should it make a difference how the instructor relates to students or is perceived by them? That conversation is fine, but it doesn't change the fact that the nature of the relationship as perceived by students matters a great deal to them. Quality relationships with faculty members support student efforts to learn and keep them in college. That's the bottom-line result in this work and a fleet of other studies.

Reference: Mueller, T. S. (2017). The student perception of faculty scale: Development, testing and practical application. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 28(1), 99–116.