Thursday, September 19, 2013
In the last few weeks, I have had students commenting in sessions on their inability to hear professors. It is not because the students are hearing-impaired. Instead it seems to be from two sources: less than optimal classroom acoustics or professor characteristics. What has struck me about the problem is that the students (whether 1L or upper-division) are reluctant to mention the problem to the professors. The students in the back rows prefer to miss out on sections of class rather than take any risk to resolve the problem.
Now I can understand more readily when the hesitation is because of a soft-spoken or mumbling professor. After all, one wants to be diplomatic and not seem critical. But when acoustics are involved, there is no "personal failing" on the part of the professor that would make it awkward.
Here are some possible ways for students to handle the situation tactfully:
- For true acoustical problems, see if the AV/IT staff can approach the professor about wearing a microphone because they are aware of the poor acoustics and want to remedy the problem.
- Once a professor is aware of the problem and trying to remedy it, let the professor know if you can't hear: wave from the back of the room as an agreed-upon signal for example.
- If the problem is hearing fellow students when they are answering/asking questions, perhaps ask the professor to prompt students to speak up or to hand the students a hand-held microphone each time.
- If the room has other empty seats, move to a spot where it is easier to hear. If the professor uses a seating chart, ask permission to move to an empty seat before doing so.
- Blame it on acoustics - perhaps even when it is not the total cause of the problem. If people in the back two or three rows cannot hear the professor, then indicate that there is a dead spot and would the professor mind using a microphone or speaking louder.
- Have a group of students approach the faculty member together so that no one person feels embarrassed about bringing it up. Or write a diplomatically worded group note/e-mail to the professor.
- If it is a class with a teaching assistant (for example, a first-year doctrinal course), explain the problem to the TA and see if that person is willing to approach the professor so that the information can be passed on anonymously.
Most professors will be very glad to know if there is a problem. A diplomatic discussion between students and the professor would be ideal. After all, it shows that the students think what the professor is saying is important and they do not want to miss it! (Amy Jarmon)