The Perspectives articles exploring IF in the classroom have, thus far, largely articulated the benefits of our student-centered approach on student learning, interaction, retention, and skill development (leadership, communication, etc.). It is important that we also consider the impact of the process on faculty. This summary is based upon my many hours of debriefing with faculty who have used the IF process, as well as upon end-of-semester surveys completed by faculty who have used the process.
At first glance, some faculty will assume that, since they are largely observing students’ discussion in many of the class sessions, their work load will be lighter—no need to create lectures that imbue knowledge upon students. In fact, though, nearly all faculty discover that carefully observing one’s students is challenging but engaging work. These observations not only allow faculty to help students to develop their facilitation and leadership skills but also help faculty to really listen to and get to know their students. Faculty in IF classrooms find that they develop more empathy for their students and that they are much more capable of identifying and assisting students who are having academic or personal difficulties. This sort of insight is especially critical in intervening with at-risk, first-year students, for instance first-generation college students, before a student fails out or simply quietly drops out of school.
Nearly all faculty do find that the increased emphasis on student-driven discussion in class means that much less material is covered. Some faculty worry that this could preclude the use of the IF process in certain kinds of classes in which core material must be covered in order to prepare students for the next course in a major’s sequence. However, virtually every faculty member who reports that less material was covered in the class also notes that students learned the material that was covered in much more detail and could articulate that learning in tests and papers better than previous semesters’ students could.
By the end of a semester in the IF classroom, nearly every faculty member says that they would use the IF process again in future classes because they feel much more renewed in their teaching and connected to their students. Faculty routinely marvel at the comments and insights students will develop on their own, in interaction with their fellow students. Most of these faculty note that they never would have imagined that their students had such interesting things to say. At the end of the day, this is the best source of faculty renewal: instead of simply lecturing at one’s students, one can engage in a real dialogue with them—extending what they already know rather than presuming to know their current understanding.