Jean-Francois Revel’s book, Anti-Americanism, analyzes European attitudes and occasional hypocrisy towards the United States. In one of the later chapters Revel reflects on the remarkable success of American universities, why the world’s brightest flock to American institutions. He points to the catalytic environment of American academies where close integration of teaching and research reinforce one another. The fast pace of research has provided new excitement for the classroom but also new challenges for faculty in their effort to translate increasing amounts of information into course content.
Faculty today face other challenges as well. Technology in the classroom provides an opportunity for enhancing knowledge transfer through the capacity for both parallel and serial multi-media presentations within the classroom. However, used awkwardly, such technology can be disruptive to the coherence and cadence of the class and consequently detract from the learning experience. Other challenges arise from the busyness of today’s students, who are accustomed both to a more rapid delivery of information from multiple media and to more scheduled, even overscheduled, lives.
Perhaps some of the greatest opportunities and challenges for effective teaching arise from the changing dynamics of the student population. Within the working lifetime of some longserving U.Va. faculty, the student body has moved from primarily southern, white male domination to an ethnically and culturally diverse population with both national and international textures. Gone are the days when one could expect students to arrive with relatively homogenous experiences and views. Oftentimes students now absorb information in a language that is not native, place new knowledge into a wide-ranging set of cultural contexts, and respond to information with varied emotions. Students struggle for recognition of their place in our community as they are pushed to move out of their comfort zones and into our vital but challenging intellectual community. This process can be rewarding but stressful, and nowhere will sensitivities be more evident than in the classroom. An understanding and appreciation of the complexity of contemporary student experience will help faculty harness this tension in productive and creative ways. There is little doubt that the opportunities for profound learning by both students and faculty have never been greater.
I am certain that you will find Teaching a Diverse Student Body a helpful tool as you work to create the best possible learning environment for your students.
Vice President and Provost
Alumni Council Thomas Jefferson Professor of Biology