Fall of the American Empire
Airline Fees Gouging America

Boring Teachers

 Ben Stein Teaching a Boring Economics Class in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"


Teachers have heard it before -- we're boring in the classroom! I've blogged before about the lack of a work ethic on the part of students today. Now I look at whether we as teachers are at least partly to blame because we don't stimulate our students.

Most teachers today seem dull compared to the online resources that capture one's imagination, challenge one's ingenuity, and generally entertain young people. It is hard for a teacher to compete with the colorful, fast-moving, high-tech entertainment offered on TV or the computer. If a student enrolls in a course where the teacher dresses in drab colors, speaks in a monotone, and is not enthusiastic about her topic, then yes, the student is likely to find the classroom scene boring.

A study by Penn State University (http://www.esm.psu.edu/practices.html) identifies the ten best teaching practices as ranked by business and engineering students. These fields are close to my own -- Accounting -- so I find the results very informative.

Table 1. Ranking of Ten Best Teaching Practices by Undergraduate Students Enrolled in Business and Engineering
by Penn State University professors David Butt and Edwatd Reutzel






Giving lectures that are clear and

1 (74%)

1 (80%)

Helping students prepare for exams
by offering special study sessions

2 (39%)

3 (39%)

Collecting student feedback on a
regular basis to determine what was
learned, what was confusing, etc.

3 (37%)

4 (38%)

Carefully explaining course goals,
expectations, grading and ground
rules at the beginning of the course

4 (32%)

5 (37%)

Asking for and acting upon student
suggestions for improving the course

5 (30%)

6 (31%)

Promptly reviewing homework,
exams, assignments, etc.

6 (29%)

2 (44%)

Providing examples of "superior"
exam answers, "excellent" projects
and "A" papers

7 (29%)

8 (28%)

Giving students an opportunity to
revise assignments before a final
grade is given

8 (24%)

9 (24%)

Having a formal agenda (schedule of
goals and topics) for each class session

9 (23%)

7 (29%)

Incorporating group discussion activities as
part of each class session

10 (20%)

10 (16%)

*Rank is measured as the percentage of students listing a practice as first,
second, or third most important.


Looking over the identified best practices we can see that students today, much as in the past, want clear lectures that help them to learn the material and teacher support in the learning process. Students did not say “make the lectures more interesting” although practices such as having a formal agenda and using group discussion help to accomplish that goal. It could be that students were reluctant to imply teachers are boring although failing to act on student suggestions to improve the course might be indicative of those feelings. Perhaps the results were biased by the fact business and engineering students made up the population surveyed. Much like my field of accounting, business and especially engineering teaches highly technical material with time consuming but meaningful assignments that provide students an opportunity to learn the material by doing it. Allowing students to revise their work before assigning final grades may be an excellent learning tool.

The one change in education I’ve noticed during the past twenty years or so is the greater emphasis placed today on interactive student learning. Quite frankly, it is something I struggle with every term. I try to incorporate group work and meaningful term paper assignments. One new technique I tried this past winter quarter was to allow students in my ethics class to select one of my blogs as the basis for their term paper. In the past I assigned somewhat boring term paper topics such as: “Is Accounting an Ethical Profession?” The result was boring student papers. I now know I was to blame. I’ve already read many first drafts of the blog papers and I sense the passion coming out about issues of concern and better application of creative writing skills.

So, what should you takeaway from this blog? As a teacher we must challenge ourselves to do more, spend time thinking of creative ways to teach, promote student interaction in the classroom, and challenge our students. I am fortunate to teach at an excellent academic institution -- Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo -- so I have no one to blame but myself if students find the learning experience less than rewarding…On the other hand, students need to learn that there is more to learning than just a grade. Grades are important but so is the thirst for knowledge and desire to learn as much as possible, regardless of teaching style, in order to contribute to the betterment of society.