SETTING HIGH EXPECTATIONS
Teaching strategies enable students to thrive
April 26, 2012
By Rachel Castro
ECU News Services
High expectations are the key to effective teaching, said Ravi Paul, a management information systems professor in the East Carolina University College of Business.
“I set a high bar of standards for my students,” he said. “Challenging students is what enables them to thrive.”
Paul is the 2012 recipient of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in teaching, one of 17 outstanding faculty members in the UNC system selected for the annual award. He received a commemorative medallion and a $75,000 cash prize for his excellence in teaching.
His teaching success comes from clear communication of high standards combined with caring for and understanding students, Paul said.
“Students’ antennae can pick up teachers who care, so I try to make it clear that I care about their academics and their wellbeing,” Paul said.
Read more about Paul’s teaching career and philosophies in the following Q&A.
Many lucrative careers are available in mechanical engineering. What led you to choose the classroom instead?
After I completed undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering, I tried out five or six jobs in the field. I did not enjoy them as much as I thought I would. So I pursued my masters in industrial management in the College of Business at Clemson. As a requirement for my program, I began teaching about computer systems. I learned two things about myself there: how much I enjoyed learning about computers and how much I enjoyed teaching. I got my Ph.D., became a visiting instructor at Clemson and from there, started my career as a professor.
How do you define excellence in teaching at the university level?
At ECU, I try to establish and encourage a high expectation of learning. Challenging students is what enables them to thrive. I believe in my students’ ability to rise to my level of expectations while providing an encouraging environment and understanding what motivates them. I do this by being vocal and firm in my demands and by trying to learn about my students every day. The more I learn about them, the more I understand what motivates them.
Students’ antennae can pick up teachers who care, so I try to make it clear that I care about their academics and their wellbeing. When they see that I care, they make that extra effort. Communication is very important in teaching: the communication of my high level of expectancy, confidence in their abilities and care, and finally, my encouragement.
How do you keep recurring lessons and topics fresh each year?
Research keeps the topics fresh. My field is ever evolving. With new research and new findings come new topics, so I am constantly bringing new ideas into the classroom. I follow this cycle: research, curriculum development, teaching and evaluation. I am the chair of both the MBA and MIS curricula, so I do my best to bring new and relevant information into those areas.
I also keep my lessons fresh through my presentation in the classroom. I always ask students how I am doing and if I can improve on anything. They have an ongoing journal for the semester. By reading through student journals, I can pick up on how my teaching strategies are helping them and what areas I might need to improve.
What are the most difficult lessons to teach?
I have found that much of the time, the struggles students face do not have to do with the complex, technical side of my classes. Instead, I have noticed that they struggle with the "soft skills" such as good communication and effective teamwork. This is difficult because these are the important skills an employer looks for; it is something that cannot easily be taught in a classroom.
Employers want people who can communicate effectively and who can work well with in a team. This is why I construct a curriculum that requires real world experience. Then students not only have a portfolio that speaks volumes, they have the necessary experience.
What are your favorite subjects and lessons to teach?
The systems analysis and design/development and implementation classes are my favorite classes. I helped create the curriculum for these classes specifically to include a real-world project. Students in that class must find and work with a business needing software design.
There is no better way to learn a trade than by actually doing it. It teaches them communication skills, how to face cultural differences and how to overcome technological issues. It helps them become professionals.