Do your students know your marital status? Your pets’ names? Whether or not you’re vegan? Most of us have used stories from our personal lives to help illustrate a concept and know the power those stories can have to build trust, make connections, and revive student interest in a boggy lecture. I’ve also seen warm and personal video introductions in online courses—including several with cats—with similar effects.
But these narratives can also create danger zones of vulnerability and discomfort for both the instructor and the students. Where’s the line between the self-disclosure that creates genuine human relationships with students and the over-sharing that becomes counter-productive, awkward, or inappropriate?
Turns out there’s research on this that supports clear and sensible guidelines, as reported in this recent post on Pedagogy Unbound. Student learning is positively linked to faculty self-disclosure so long as (1) we don’t do too much of it (browse Rate My Professors for evidence that students may not find our personal lives quite as fascinating as we do); (2) we observe boundaries (no sexual exploits, no religious proselytizing); and (3) we keep it relevant to the course material. This last one, I think, is the key. Last weekend I got to offer a workshop for a campus group and told a story about a recent event at my kids’ high school as the basis for a quick case study. It was by far the best part of the presentation. The story was real, local, and personal; the subject pertained directly to the workshop; and the students got to make connections to their own experiences and the mission of their organization. Win, win, win.
Also, brevity is a virtue. Please note the 329 word count for today’s tip.
* Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.