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Teachers who share more see increase in student motivation

Two Ohio State professors say students are more motivated to perform well in a classroom if they know their teacher on a more personal level.

Bob Eckhart, a professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology, and Laurie Maynell, an instructional development specialist at OSU, will share Eckhart’s findings in their presentation “To Share or not to Share” for the second time on Friday.

“What I’m trying to talk to the grad students and faculty about is to be aware of the decisions they make, things they disclose and the impact it’s going to have on students,” Eckhart said.

If teachers tell their students personal information about themselves, students are more likely to invest themselves in the class, Eckhart said.

“If the teacher is just a talking head and students have no personal connection to the teacher, the learning becomes very abstracted,” he said. “But if the teacher can tell the students a few things about who they are and the students start to enjoy coming to class, learning about the teacher as a human being, the investment in the class goes up, and the motivation goes up.”

Although, Maynell said there is a fine line between telling enough and telling too much personal information.

“There is such a thing as too much,” Maynell said. “Too much seems self-promoting and you start antagonizing the students.”

Eckhart agreed with Maynell.

“(Teachers) have to figure out ‘At what point have I crossed the line? At what point do I seem narcissistic? At what point does it all become about me?,'” Eckhart said. “You’ve got to stop before you get to that point.”

Teachers who share information relative to the subject matter to the class will generally experience a positive reception from students, Maynell said.

Michael Fitzsimons, a fourth-year in industrial and systems engineering, said he is more likely to be motivated to do well in class if he knows more about his teacher.

“You’re able to communicate and relate to them better,” Fitzsimons said.

Eckhart began researching the topic of teacher self-disclosure after his girlfriend, Marcie Williams, an English as a second language professor at OSU, died from breast cancer two years ago.

Williams wrote an article on her experiences telling students she had breast cancer, Eckhart said.

“Her (students) would say ‘Oh that’s terrible, my aunt died of breast cancer,’ which would make her cry,” Eckhart said. “Or they would say, ‘Oh breast cancer, that’s a good one to have.’ Or they didn’t know what to say. She didn’t always have a positive experience.”

Eckhart said he continued her work after her death.

“I gave the first presentation about the one-year anniversary of her death,” Eckhart said. “It was a way for me to process it, and really a way for me to honor what she had started.”

This year’s presentation falls on the two-year anniversary of Williams’ death, Eckhart said.

After Williams passed away during Autumn quarter of 2009, Eckhart said he could not hide from his students that he was impacted by her death and he told all of them what happened.

Eckhart asked his students a series of questions in the course evaluation form to determine how sharing personal information affected them. From this he concluded that the majority of his students want to know what’s happening in their teachers’ lives and that knowing their teachers makes them more likely to be invested and motivated in the class.

“(My students and I) made a connection,” Eckhart said. “They never missed class again. They just felt like class was a place where ‘I’m going to go and I’m going to learn something from this person because I can relate. This is a real person.'”

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