Enhancing the Learning Environment by Learning all the Students' Names

Anker Helms Jørgensen

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Short abstract This paper describes how the teaching environment can be enhanced significantly by a simple method: learning the names of all the students. The method is time-efficient: In a course with 33 students I used 65 minutes in total. My own view of the effect was confirmed in a small study: The students felt more valued, secure and respected. They also made an effort to learn each other's names. Long abstract In high school teachers know the students' names very soon - anything else is unthinkable (Wiberg, 2011). Not so in universities where knowing the names of all the students is the exception. Most teachers get to know the names of the most active students. Many teachers feel bad about this and would love to know all the students' names, but the task seems insurmountable.Over the years I have developed a simple, systematic and time-efficient method to learn the names of all students that can be communicated to others. The method consists of eight steps: 1.Make a list of the students' names. Go through it, write the names in columns. Note patterns, e.g., three Mary and two John, no one starting with A, B, and C.2.Drill recalling the names over and over by writing them on a blank sheet of paper. 3.In the first class create ownership among the students by motivation the idea. 4.Take photos of the students. This is voluntary, but so far I've never experienced a "No".5.Create a photo gallery, print the photos on paper, cut them, and write the names on the back.6.Publicize the photo gallery for the students at the course website.7.Drill the names and faces by going through the photos and recall the name (or the face); then shuffle the "deck" and repeat until a desired level of proficiency is reached.8.Practice and insist in teaching sessions to state the name of each student whenever they want to speak out. This is very important - and also potentially embarrassing if you hesitate or fail. This method can be supported by many types of theory, e.g., psychological theories of human acceptance, but suffice it in this educational context to mention one: The authentic teacher (Cranton 2001). Some key features are•Make your visions explicit: I publicize my intention to learn all the students' names.•Show yourself as a person: This seems fulfilled as the students haven't seen enything like this before. •Demonstrate that you take the students seriously: I show respect for the students as individuals.•Avoid having favourites among the students: I learn the names of all the students, not just the most active handful.The task may seem daunting, but in my experience the method is time-efficient and effective. In a course last term with 33 students I used 65 minutes in total, i.e., 2 minutes per student and 4 minutes per week. I investigated the effect in a small email-survey, mailed to 50 Diploma students I taught in 2011. I received 19 answers (38%), not impressive, but a good indication. The results showed a marked positive bias: 55 positive items mentioned and only 3 negative. The most frequent answer was the feeling of being welcome, accepted and respected (11). The atmosphere in class was more positive and the students felt more secure (9). It supported socalization (5) and better dialogue (5). They felt I was being serious, professional and committed (4). In addition, it gave respect among the students (3). Some other surprising points emerged. Firstly, the students felt much more encouraged to learn each other's names (6). One student mentioned that my use of the method was a "live presentation" of the systematic use of method, a cornerstone in academia - indeed an unexpected side effect! As to caveats of the method, people differ substantially in their ability to remember names and faces (Woodhead & Baddeley, 1981). Hence my results do not generalize. Even a committed colleague will probably not be able to achieve optimal performance initially, but should be able to do so after some trials.Im summary, using the method to learn all the students' names enhances the learning environment substantially.  ReferencesCranton, Patricia (2001) Becoming an authentic teacher in higher education. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Pub. Co.Wiberg, Merete (2011): Personal email communication June 22, 2011.Woodhead, M. M. and Baddeley, A. (1981): Individual differences and memory for faces, pictures, and words. Memory & Cognition, vol 9, No. 4, 368-370

Original languageEnglish
Publication date2014
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventEducational development in a changing world - Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 16 Jun 201418 Jun 2014


ConferenceEducational development in a changing world
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