Recently I was spending some time with my family. Since several of them were at University, I heard a lot about college life.
My nephew had just started at Uni and was describing his first days as he was embarking on an engineering degree.
“I had no idea how my professor was going to be like,” he said. He shared how he had been full of trepidation about knowing what to do.
I asked him, “Did you know anything about him?”
He indicated some sleuthing ability, “Well, what I could find on LinkedIn, and Googling him…”
My nephew came from a great school that prided itself on creating strong relationships with their students and keeping classroom sizes to under 20 students. Now he was in a sea of 25,000 students and classroom sizes that were significantly larger.
His welcome to this large university consisted of a welcome letter, with a follow-up email, that kept to the facts. It essentially ensured they got on campus and would be able to meet their orientation director. It didn’t do much to calm the anxiety, though. I asked if he was able to reach out to his professor and introduce himself. He looked at me like I was, well, an alien. I realized that’s a standard reaction between different generations. But I knew from my own experience that professors can connect with students on such a profound level, often times inspiring students to great things. So why was there this wall?
A More Wide-Spread Problem
As I spoke to students and faculty upon my university visits across EMEA, I found that this experience was often echoed. Students shared my nephew’s experiences. It wasn’t that the professors resisted the contact, either. Professors said that they wished they had a little bit more information about their students so that they could reach all of them. They often deal with large classrooms where quieter students end up remaining anonymous. Many said that the first few weeks often defined how they would be perceived in the classroom. Both sides were interested in establishing more personal relationships faster, but somehow the connection wasn’t getting made.
The use of video has been cited before as a great way to connect people. Research shows that individuals’ brains activate more fully when presented with the visual movement, tone, and faces offered by video. This then enables a stronger connection to content.
With that in mind, wouldn’t it have been a different experience if there had been a short video embedded in the welcome email?
Video Introductions Smooth the Way
The video might have said something like, “I just wanted to say hello and give you a face with name as I am going to be your advisor for your first year at Uni. You probably have a lot of questions and everything feels like a bit of a whirlwind, but feel free to stop by my offices at Room 7B at University Building 1 and say hi. I am very much looking forward to working with you. I have been with this University for 15 years, and have been in engineering for 20. Feel free to comment or submit a video below this video and tell me a bit about yourself. While you’re at it, take a few seconds to view your fellow students’ introductions as well!”
The connection with the student, the acknowledgment of the student’s first weeks, and the creating a connection over video would have given the student something to hold on to. Upon meeting the professor, they would have already had an exchange and the conversation would have a great foundation on which to grow.
In addition, giving students the ability to interact with their peers’ introductions would create a community before day one, potentially accelerating classroom cohesion.
I encourage all professors to consider introducing themselves with a video and encouraging their students to do the same. Sometimes all it takes is a connection to transform the classroom experience.