Student success comes down to a number of factors—access to course material, outside support and financial security, and an active, engaged learning environment—but the most important part of the equation is always teaching. And outside of the mandatory and much-aligned course evaluation, many students don’t take the opportunity to tell their professors what they need in the classroom in order to do well.

Here, three students anonymously tell Top Hat what’s important to their success—from making connections to teaching styles.

1. Customizing your teaching to fit the class’s needs

M.M., Ryerson University

For me, one of the most important aspects of a course is having a passionate instructor— someone who genuinely cares about the subject they’re teaching. If you have that, you’ve got a solid foundation for learning and growth.

Flexibility from the instructor is also key, and the structure of evaluations is equally important. There is nothing worse to me than cookie-cutter learning—I need original and authentic instruction in order to thrive.

I had one professor who used a “choose-your-own-adventure” style of assessment—we had core components that we all needed to complete (midterm, final, etc.) but a good portion of our final grade came from assignments that we could choose from based on our interests and strengths, such as quizzes, a “press release” based on peer-reviewed articles, presentations, even artwork.

This assessment model served the needs of the many kinds of learners sitting in that lecture hall of around 500 students.

Key takeaway: Stay passionate about teaching and ensure your assessments are flexible.

2. Creating the feeling of smaller classes—no matter the actual size

D.O., University of Toronto, Mississauga

In order to be successful, I think first-year students need smaller class sizes. First-year students get crammed into classes of over 500 people, which means they lack a personal connection with the professor, which students can get in upper-year courses.

Students need to be nurtured, and need to build relationships with their professors and one another, in order to succeed. These strong relationships make for increased attentiveness in class, as well as a general sense of overall well-being.

Some of the best courses I experienced were the smaller ones as they allowed for more comfortable group discussions and seminar-style learning.

Key takeaway: Build relationships with your students, then let them use those relationships to learn from one another.

3. Have regular assessment exercises throughout the semester

A.Z., New York University

If professors had a checkpoint exercise at the beginning of each course, to see where students stand in a subject area, that would benefit every student. Although professors don’t assume that everyone is at the same comprehension level, it’s important to see exactly where they are—and if necessary, adjust to that.

Formative assessments, taken during the term, are also helpful to test for an understanding of what’s been covered. It’s too late to realize that students don’t understand something the week before the final exam.

I’d also like to see more professors use digital textbooks in class rather than print ones. Digital textbooks are much more accessible: I know I’ll always be able to keep up with my readings in class and elsewhere since I always have my laptop or tablet on me.

Key takeaway: Use diagnostic and formative assessment exercises and reduce dependency on print books.

How Top Hat can help:

  • Top Hat Catalog contains digital textbook resources and assessment exercises that can be used throughout the course.
  • Top Hat allows students to engage with one another in smaller groups, and get flexible formative assessments that help them track their progress.

Read more about how Top Hat helped provoke discussion and relationship-building in a large class, or see how an interactive digital textbook can bring history classes to life.

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