Associate Director, CELT
As both anecdotal evidence and research confirm, interaction between students and faculty outside the classroom is beneficial to student learning. Indeed, this deeper level of interaction is an essential element in keeping students involved in learning and being motivated to learn. One often suggested way of increasing student-faculty interaction, particularly in study-skills or introduction-to-college courses, is for students to interview one of their instructors. One goal of an interview assignment is to foster confidence in students as well as to help them develop relationships with faculty.
An interview assignment can be highly beneficial, as it brings students into faculty offices and promotes one-on-one teaching. However, faculty who receive multiple interview requests may be surprised and even overwhelmed by the time required to fulfill them. A common understanding among both students and faculty may minimize conflict and optimize the benefits of personal interaction.
Faculty who assign interviews should be aware of constraints on their colleagues' time. In order to minimize conflicts, you might:
- Consider carefully the intended learning outcomes of the assignment. Should the student learn about the interview subject's specialty? About how teaching and research are valued in her field?
- Craft the assignment in light of those outcomes. For example, must the interview be conducted face-to-face? Could it be conducted via email or other electronic means? Could a faculty member meet with a group of students at a time?
- Make the assignment well in advance of the due date and/or be flexible with regard to the due date.
- Talk with students about the constraints on faculty time and the likelihood that their favorite teachers might receive a large number of requests.
- Offer students a protocol regarding how to contact their teachers.
- Be willing to be interviewed yourself.
Students who are asked to conduct interviews should take the assignment seriously and not leave preparation to the last minute. In order to make the most of the interview, you might:
- Understand the intended outcomes of the interview. Are you meant to learn more about the faculty member's field? About how researchers work in your discipline? Or about different teaching styles?
- Request the interview via email well in advance of your deadline and, if at all possible, during the faculty member's regular office hours.
- Have a backup in mind in case your first choice is not available.
- Consider interviewing a highly visible and involved teaching assistant.
- Send preliminary questions or a copy of the assignment to the faculty member in advance. Specify how long the interview should take.
- Look up the faculty member's online profile or webpage, if available, before going to the interview.
- Be prepared with specific questions, pen and notepad.
- Make eye contact; speak clearly and directly. Use your interview subject's appropriate title and last name unless you have specifically been invited to do otherwise. If you are not sure of the appropriate title, use "Professor."
- Be aware of the time and respectful of the personal and professional boundaries of an informational interview.
Faculty who are asked to be interviewed should recognize the value of the opportunity to work with students outside of class. In order to maximize student learning, you might:
- Respond politely to requests, even if you are unable to fulfill them.
- Ask about the intended learning outcomes of the assignment and for a copy of the assignment if available.
- Consult with the coordinator of the study-skills course or with your department chair regarding times during the semester when interview requests are most common, and consider setting aside an extra office hour during those times.
- Clarify for the student how much time you can spend on the interview.
- Offer various avenues for conducting the interview if possible (for example meeting for coffee, meeting with a small group of students, or conducting the interview via phone or email).
- Make the student feel welcome. Sit side-by-side if possible, rather than across the desk from the student.
- Ask the student about career goals, particular interests, or current coursework.
- Ask whether and how the student interview might be shared or disseminated, and tailor your answers accordingly.
- Try to elicit a response from your student interviewer rather than just the next question. Students could respond to your answer, share a related anecdote, answer a question from you – these are all ways to make the interaction more meaningful for the student.
- Ask for a copy of the student's summary or report, which may be helpful in anticipating questions and preparing responses for future interviews.
Thanks to Andrew Alt, Dean of Students Office, and members of the CELT staff for help with this article.