As a recent Orientation Mentor with Ithaca College’s Office of New Student and Transition Programs, I had the privilege of attending this year’s New Faculty Institute. I served as a student panelist and was asked to provide both feedback and advice to new faculty members based on my experiences as a student. One of the questions I was asked to respond to was, “what do you wish all faculty would do?” Given the unique position I found myself in to give faculty members advice as opposed to the other way around, I chose an answer that seemed obvious, yet critically important and cannot be emphasized enough: communicate with your students.
Given the national recognition and acclaim our very own Roy H. Park School of Communications has, it has always baffled me how poorly some faculty members communicate with their students. Whether their communication is about class deadlines and expectations, important dates and events, or health and safety protocols in light of our most recent COVID-19 spike, many faculty and staff members often fail to share pertinent information in a timely manner. Not only is it important to keep students informed, but as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and begin our second full year of in-person learning since the world came to a halt in 2020, I argue that such communication between professor and student is an essential component of the college experience.
Communication between faculty and students can have a direct impact on what can be accomplished in the classroom. As an example, the first week of classes saw the beginning of ensemble rehearsals in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. Once ensemble parts and assignments were sent, it was assumed by most students (especially upperclassmen) that rehearsals were to begin either that same day or the next day. However, first-year students, transfer students and other students new to our community were left confused and uninformed, some merely guessing when rehearsals were set to begin. This resulted in some students being late or absent from introductory rehearsals, which directly contributed to both the quality and quantity of work that they were able to accomplish.
Other important aspects of this situation are the channels through which faculty members choose to engage in conversations with students. Navigating emails, Canvas announcements, Remind messages and even content posted to other learning management systems like Google Classroom makes communication overwhelming from the student perspective to process, manage and retain information. Using a single, streamlined, unified format — like Canvas — in which professors communicate with students, could prove to be both an easy and productive solution to this issue.
In writing this piece, it is not my intention to undermine the hard work that professors do for the college’s students on a daily basis, nor is it my goal to assert that all professors fail to meet student expectations with regards to communication. Rather, I hope that our campus community can collectively evaluate how we interact with each other and work toward a common goal of making this system of communication as useful and beneficial for all parties involved while still maintaining professional and personal boundaries between colleagues. It is my wish that students will feel comfortable advocating for their needs during this new academic year and faculty will be willing to engage students in conversation with the end goal of creating a more informed and productive learning environment for all.
Though it is only realistic to recognize that communication between faculty and students will never be a flawless system, it is my belief that Ithaca College students deserve to know what their professors expect from them and have the ability to have their questions and concerns attended to promptly. By choosing to pursue a higher education at a robust liberal arts institution like Ithaca College, we are making an intentional decision to invest in our futures. On a similar note, our faculty can also choose to invest in our futures by keeping us students up to date with concise, effective communication at all times throughout the academic year.