Providing Academic Rigor in the classroom

2006 Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium Unicoi State Park and Conference Center April 14-15, 2006
TASK: In preparation for the Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium, the organizers invite you to share with fellow participants some brief reflections on the concept of academic rigor. We would appreciate receiving by Friday, April 7th, your perception of academic rigor, your personal experience with academic rigor as a teacher or student, and/or your thoughts on what faculty and the University should do to promote rigor in our academic programs

Essay ID:285113

Academic Rigor

I doubt there is a single formula for ensuring academic rigor in the classroom. We, the professors attending this Symposium, each face our own classroom challenges and must develop our own strategies. I have the good fortune of teaching students in a professional degree program. They are talented and motivated. They have chosen this course of study and are eager to succeed. Providing academic rigor in that setting is quite a different proposition than if I were teaching a mandatory course for first year college students who really had no choice (and perhaps no interest) in the subject.

In my experience, the two keys to providing academic rigor in the classroom are expectations and example. It is critical to establish my expectations early and those expectations are set by example. If I expect my students to be prepared, I must be prepared. If I expect them to have read the assigned materials with great care, I must do so as well. If I expect them to go beyond a surface understanding of the words that appear in statutes and cases, I must provide the framework for exploring that broader understanding. If I expect them to have achieved a basic understanding of the assigned readings before class begins, I must structure the class accordingly. My students’ expectations of themselves is determined to a considerable degree by what they perceive to be my expectations of them.

Institutional support can play an important role in establishing the level of academic rigor in the classroom. Every institution says it places great emphasis on classroom instruction. Unfortunately, not all institutions do what they say. Most of us know that the primary measure of professional stature in higher education is scholarship, and that is as it should be. But where does teaching fit in? Are scholars encouraged to be good teachers, or is teaching something to be endured so as to afford opportunity for scholarship? Do rigorous teachers occupy leadership positions in the school or department? Are they respected and valued by the administration? Young professors, like students, set their professional expectations by what they observe.

The University of Georgia continues to send mixed signals in this regard. On the one hand, it has established a Teaching Academy to recognize the value of superior instruction. It also sponsors Symposiums such as this to afford reflection and dialog. On the other hand, it schedules its fall break around a football game and appears to back down when students demand to know the grading patterns of individual professors so they can set their academic compass to find the path of least resistance. Changing an academic culture is a long term process. The long term strategy that I would recommend is to fill key departmental administrative positions with people who value and will reward academic rigor. They will set the expectations for professors, who in turn, will establish appropriate expectations for the students.