Becoming Professor Nesi: Teaching #HigherEd

I recently completed my first semester as a Guest Lecturer at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information. You might be wondering how I was hired to teach higher ed so here’s the quick version…

I came to this position via my usage of social media and my podcast, House of #EdTech. I was assigned the course titled Leadership in a Digital Context, a course in the Digital Communication and Information Minor (DCIM).

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Of all the students I’ve worked with, I can say with absolute certainty that I will always fondly remember the students I worked with from my student teaching experience, the students from my first full-time position, and this first group of college students.

I knew when I was planning this course that I wanted it to be different and really give the students the opportunity to have a wonderful experience and learn throughout the semester. I spoke with Katelyn after the course ended and explained to her the final exam project and some other feedback I had received from students and she said, “You know why you had fun and the course was successful? You ran the course like a graduate class.”

That statement sealed the deal for me in my reflection. Higher Ed didn’t become fun until I got to the graduate level. I enjoy discussion-based learning and sharing my ideas and points of view on topics with other people. Clearly, I enjoy speaking and conveying my message with audio.

I enjoyed this class so much because I was free to share my beliefs and opinions. [Prof. Nesi] was a good motivator to me and kept me engaged in class the entire time. — Surveyed Student

The act of teaching also became enjoyable because I didn’t have to report to anything I planned with anyone. The freedom to do what I thought was best worked out well. There was never a session where I arrived with a complete plan for the meeting time afforded us in the hybrid model. I allowed room to see where discussions could go and what new topics would come up. I can be honest and share that sometimes it was like pulling teeth to foster conversations with my students and among themselves. I fostered a lot of collaborative activities and conversations from week to week while I sprinkled in my perspective on the world and gave these young people something to think about.

This course in leadership was more about bringing out the qualities that the students already had as well as installing new ideas and new ways of thinking in them. I replaced their paper midterm with a passion project which really was unchartered water given how much was left up to each student to decide for their project. They struggled with this large amount of freedom to choose their learning. Some students even questioned what they needed to do as late as one week before they were going to present.

Every Monday night session began with a simple conversation. I would ask each student a question about their previous week. Something simple like, “Tell us about the most exciting thing happened to you since last class” would get things moving. The simple conversations served a few purposes. First, it would get the students talking and second, the simple conversation would springboard us into the topic for that session which might be an ethical or decision-making scenario related to the readings.

In the 14-week semester not once did I lecture or present a poorly produced presentation or read from a slideshow. I guided my students through one long conversation about leadership and life and how to make the most of the opportunities that will be presented to them.

I liked how [Prof. Nesi] presented the material in a better way other than just lecture. — Surveyed Student

The reward was not in their final grades or even being told how much they enjoyed the class and that this was the best course they’ve taken during their time at Rutgers but rather when they told me they’ve never taken a class where they really got to know the other students in the class and were looking forward to remaining connected or even friends beyond the course.

One of the fatherly pieces of information I shared with them was that they needed to remember the experience of the course and the people they met because now they were empowered to go on and be a connector. This is not about networking for themselves, though it’s OK, but I told them, “You never know when you will be able to connect two different people who will find value in each other.”

Leadership, as I presented it, is not about being the boss or getting paid the most money, or even all the decisions that will be made. Leadership is about relationships and working with people to build positive connections. Leadership is about inspiring others and developing the positive skills in others to develop better people who may one day move into leadership positions.

[This course] helped me to effectively use technology that I already had at my disposal to the best of my abilities. It also helped me to pay attention to how I assert myself into a leadership position and to be mindful of the way I do things and to see things from all perspectives and I’ve utilized the things I’ve learned in class towards my job. — Surveyed Student

This experience is drastically different from my current daytime position and teaching this course was just what I needed professionally to recharge me as an educator. I have been invited to return in the Fall of 2016 to teach the same course and I couldn’t be happier to be going back to college.

Thanks for reading, viewing, and sharing!

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Mr. Christopher J. Nesi