Speak up, don’t mumble

By Amanda Joinson


The University of Massachusetts boasts that over 90 percent of its faculty holds some of the highest degrees in their field of instruction and that all sounds great when you’re reading it off of a computer screen. But in the classroom or lecture hall, things can get muffled.

Although we have some of the most intelligent people here at UMass – people who have been all over the world, and have done it all – it doesn’t necessarily mean they can teach. Without at least a minimal grasp of how to structure a class, communication skills and a grip on instructional strategies, passing the class can become a puzzle for students.

The classes that continuously jump around from one topic to another and then return to the previous subject matter are mazes. Everyone gets lost. Some structuring would do the class well by reorganizing  the schedule a little so all this isn’t so confusing

But class structure is sometimes the least of your problems. The classes where the professor is standing in the front of a cavernous lecture hall on a podium accompanied by a poorly executed PowerPoint presentation are perhaps the worst. I swear that ten minutes into the class the audience has been lost, and the professor’s voice turns into that “Blah, blah” that echoes in the background of Charlie Brown cartoons.

These classes often come with the monotone professor who mumbles while looking down at the podium the entire time, while reading from notes that probably have not changed for years. Other times, it is simply a mere lack of enthusiasm. Students pay thousands of dollars a semester to learn the subject matter offered through these classes and the professor cannot adequately communicate the information. It is truly the most frustrating aspect of classes when you actually want to learn and just can’t because of an awkward speech disconnect.

It is ironic, too, that most professors encourage students to take public speaking classes, not realizing that they should practice what they preach.

The professors that are not exactly the greatest at communicating don’t offer as much advice either. It is like that older man mumbling to himself and occasionally addressing you at the bus stop. You attempt to answer shortly and hope that he doesn’t ask you any more questions. Professors who don’t speak clearly are less approachable, no matter how intelligent they are – it is just harder to understand what they are attempting to get across. There is no doubt that they posses a vast amount of knowledge just waiting to be released to their students, if only they knew how to communicate it effectively.

Supplemental instruction by teaching assistants is an available back-up option, and changing the PowerPoint slides every time the professor signals is probably not what they signed up for anyhow. While graduate students are also smart, without good communication skills and a clear, confident voice, nothing changes.

At least public speaking should be required and maybe a class on how boring a plain PowerPoint can be for the human brain. The same applies to textbooks and notes; they should be supplements, not the main lifeblood of a class because students aren’t getting the clarification and guidance from the professor.

The bar for requirements to be a professor and teaching assistant needs to be raised. Scraping by with poor people skills and less than acceptable supplemental material is hurting student’s grades, not to mention futures. Walking into an internship claiming you took a class and then not knowing the material is bound to cause disappointment and frustration.

Everyone learns differently. PowerPoint’s are great, but maybe some hands-on lab time would be beneficial (and maybe some videos), just to mix it up. It couldn’t hurt. Anything that doesn’t make a student feel like their time would’ve been better spent at home copying down bullet points.

Ultimately, many students come to college without any idea as to what they want to do and wait for that moment of inspiration in the classroom to judge where they will go.

Just think back to class that you enjoyed so much that you decided there and then to declare your major. The professor most likely was highly organized, and the class was mentally and visually stimulating, rather than a chore to attend.

Amanda Joinson is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]