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Leading by Example and Modifying Our Approach

Leadership and Management

Leading by Example and Modifying Our Approach

I was recently watching the Emmy-winning HBO series Succession, and something one of the characters expressed struck a chord with me. Roman Roy, one of the heirs to a media conglomerate dominated by television news, expressed the need for movement to newer forms of media because people want information in “morsels” instead of lengthy television shows and books. I don’t believe we are putting books and television out to pasture, but the “morsel” comment resonated with me. 

How can department chairs encourage their faculty members to consider different ways to reach students? We must lead by example. We do not have to abandon the approaches that have made us successful educators. We just may need to make some modifications. Department chairs should share what they are doing in their classes. Discuss the items that students have responded to favorably as well as the things that did not work. Leading an academic area that is composed of both full-time faculty and adjuncts is not an easy task. Many faculty members have no desire to accept a position that can be a bureaucratic burden. They do not want to conduct yearly evaluations of other faculty, complete annual assessment reports, and attend countless meetings. But the challenges that come with being a chair also offer opportunities to lead change.

Today’s 18–22-year-old students and, to a certain extent, older adult learners consume information at a different pace than department chairs and faculty did as students. Everything is instant, whether accurate, verifiable, or not. Want to know the answer or acquire more information? Google it. Need a quick news update? Check Twitter. Want to see how your friends really feel about a political issue? See their Facebook posts. One could argue that some YouTube content creators are more successful than traditional television and movie studios. Look at the views, subscribers, likes, and the money these digital entrepreneurs have acquired.

Are educators prepared for students that do not consume information and knowledge in the traditional lecture and textbook format? Bunce et al. (2010) posit that students’ “attention alternates between being engaged and nonengaged in ever-shortening cycles throughout a lecture segment (p. 1442). Rosegard and Wilson (2013) acknowledge that college students are often bored. To reach students with different expectations and needs from ours, we may need to adjust our approach.

Below are “morsels” that can reach today’s students:

  1. Use the learning management system (LMS). Notes, PowerPoint, and content articles can be posted within the LMS so that students can come to class prepared and not be expected to “take notes” for the duration of the class period. Instead, class time can be spent in group work, discussion, and scenario-based problem solving. Alexander (2018) recognizes this “flip” by noting that once in the classroom, students “engage in the processing part of learning: synthesizing, analyzing, and critical thinking” (p. 278).
  2. Whether the class is face-to-face or online, use technological tools such as Edpuzzle to assess student engagement by inserting questions within YouTube videos or faculty lecture videos. These quick “quizzes” encourage students to watch the videos since there is an assessment implemented within the videos. Keep the length of the videos that you record shorter than ten minutes. I’ve learned that it is more effective to record multiple short videos than one lengthy one.
  3. Utilize one of the assumptions of andragogy: the immediate application of knowledge. The incorporation of real-world problems into classes can help students stay focused. We need their input and help in navigating the world in which we live. Students are more likely to stay focused if we are working to solve the challenges they experience daily.
  4. We should be open to exploring classroom content that is out of our comfort zone but possibly in students’ wheelhouse. We have course learning outcomes and weekly objectives. How can we accomplish those while using content that is familiar to students? We aren’t abandoning journal articles or books, but rather exploring different forms of media. Have students analyze a podcast of their choosing and apply it to the week’s objectives. Examine a successful content creator or entrepreneur and see whether their work can be utilized and applied to the week’s content.
  5. Instructional designers and technology professionals are our friends. It’s OK to admit that we might not have the same level of tech savvy of those whom we are teaching. The professionals in these positions at our institutions can help us bridge the technological divide between faculty and students and ensure that we are using technology appropriately. Invite them to department meetings.

At our core, we are teachers. We traveled the road toward academia to positively shape lives. By demonstrating empathy, listening, and sharing our successes and failures, we can influence both students and our fellow faculty members.


Alexander, M. M. (2018). The flipped classroom: Engaging the student in active learning. Journal of Legal Studies Education, 35(2), 277–300. https://doi.org/10.1111/jlse.12078

Bunce, D. M., Flens, E. A., & Neiles, K. Y. (2010). How long can students pay attention in class? A study of student attention decline using clickers. Journal of Chemical Education, 87(12), 1438–1443. https://doi.org/10.1021/ed100409p

Rosegard, E., & Wilson, J. (2013). Capturing students’ attention: An empirical study. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(5), 1–20. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/josotl/article/view/3891

Anthony Schumacher, PhD, is an assistant professor and chair of ethical leadership at Thomas More University. He has earned online teaching certifications from the University of Michigan and the Online Learning Consortium and has been recognized with three faculty member of the year awards and two faculty innovation grants.

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