Communication | Excellence in Teaching – Prof. Robert Kagan

Excellence in Teaching – Prof. Robert Kagan

Central Connecticut State University  presented the 2018 Excellence in Teaching  (EIT) Awards to one full-time and one part-time faculty member. Prof. Robert Kagan, a long-time collaborator in our department, was the recipient of the Part-time award and called it “one of the highlights” of his career. A decades-long, part-time instructor at CCSU, he held the position of chair of the Communication Department at Manchester Community College until his retirement three years ago. To qualify for the EIT award, a faculty member must be nominated by a student and supply supporting documentation from at least three other students and a colleague.

Joan Walden and Michael North, two other professors of our department, were among the 55 faculty members named to the EIT Honor Roll.

The award reads in part, “In recognition of your dedication to the success and fulfillment of your students as lifelong learners and of your deep commitment to the primary academic mission of Central Connecticut State University.”

My Teaching Philosophy

What I’ve Learned from 41 Years at the Front of the Classroom

In many cases the students know more than the professor. This is readily apparent when I teach my Fundamentals of Communication class. This is class for non majors that teaches a variety of communication skills that can be used in both professional, family and social situations. When we talk about relationships I provide them with background about the perils of online dating and social media. We discuss how an ill advised email can result in the loss of a job. We discuss how posting a questionable photo on Instagram can have repercussions in the future. In each area I ask them to share their personal experiences in cyberspace.

Within the module on effective job interviewing techniques, again I provide background information and best practice tips and then I encourage students to share their most recent experiences looking for work and interviewing.

In terms of my video production classes, I absorbed the style of the 70’s and 80’s and integrated that into my professional video production work and teaching style.  Our students have absorbed recent styles characterized by constant camera movement and a hyper fast editing style and their work reflects that. Every semester I sit in awe and watch a student video with a fresh visual approach that I personally could never have created. I learn from them, share their video with students the next semester and we all move forward together.

Students will either rise to high expectations or sink based on low expectations.

Set the bar high. Build confidence in each student. Tell them if they work hard they have the skills and talent to succeed. Nurture and support. Carrots rather than sticks.

But don’t be afraid to kick them in the butt. While some students have little or no motivation and will not respond to any amount of cajoling, other students need to be called on the carpet occasionally. Maybe it’s a private word after class asking them how things are going or maybe it’s an emotional reading of the riot act, telling them to stop wasting their talent and intellect and start producing. Being an effective instructor is as much about being a psychologist as it is a dispenser of knowledge.

Students learn best by doing. All my classes feature extensive group work. This includes group presentation projects, group work in class and group video production projects. Over the years I have taught five different video production classes at Central. Each class involves working in a group situation. Teamwork and collaborative learning are essential. This is the model in the communication field as well as the business world so it’s imperative that students are able to deal with group dynamics, different personality types and work effectively with individuals who may have different backgrounds than they do. I have learned that each individual brings his or her strengths to the table and that enriches the group process and the group project as a whole.

The group must learn how to delegate work, meet deadlines and deal with individuals in the group who do not pull their full load. If they can learn how to deal with this in the classroom they will be better prepared to deal with it when they encounter it in the professional world.

Make learning fun (or at least create an environment where the students look forward to coming to class). There is no one strategy here but it is obvious that if people enjoy what they are doing they are going to be more engaged and put in more effort. Whether it’s creating an active learning environment, showing video students some of the best (and sometimes the worst) projects done by their predecessors, or connecting the class work and projects to their future financial and personal well being, it is important to satisfy the students’ desire to know “Why do I have to take this course and what will I get out of it?” There are no one size fits all response to this question and that is part of the challenge of being adaptable to the individual students and the class chemistry and creating a dynamic learning environment for every class.

As an instructor it is imperative to stay current, stay motivated and keep moving forward. Research in the field, software and aesthetic styles are constantly changing. It is impossible to use the class notes that I used five years ago. I am constantly revising and refreshing my course material and assignments. As I enter my 42nd year teaching this January I realize I don’t have all the answers but I do know that I have a lot more answers than I had in January 1978.