Unleashing the power of analysis.
I tell my students statistics is like fine wine and stinky cheese - it's an acquired taste," says Psychology Professor Jim Friedrich. "It grows on you over time and you start seeing that it has its own kind of elegance."
Friedrich frequently employs such colorfully pungent analogies because his courses delve into the murky worlds of statistical analysis and scientific methodology - subjects notorious for swallowing students' enthusiasm whole. The key to teaching technical material, says Friedrich, is knowing the right moment to use a little levity. "You can't take yourself too seriously. You take the subject matter seriously, but you need to be able to relax a little bit with the material."
Humor is not the only tool that makes Friedrich's courses so palatable. He is also remarkably open with students about seeking input and course feedback. One third of the way through each semester, he hands out class evaluation forms and asks students to write about their impressions of the course and how they feel about their own class performance. "Early evaluations allow you to adjust the way you are teaching a course at a time when it can have a meaningful impact. I also think sometimes students care more about the fact that you asked them for input than they do about making any recommendations for the course."
Friedrich feels that one of Willamette's great strengths is the faculty's finely tuned sense for balancing intellectual freedom and academic rigor. "What I like about Willamette is that there is a lot of support and encouragement of students to be autonomous and responsible. The faculty that I know here try very conscientiously to walk that line between having enough structure to encourage success, but not having so much that students become passive learners."
Maintaining the right formula and pacing to keep his courses stimulating, Friedrich says, is one of the most challenging aspects of being a professor. That is why open communication with his students is such an important part of his teaching methodology. "I tell my students to live up to what Willamette bills itself to be and promises to you. I need to be held to the highest standard. If I am not providing a course that gives you more than you could get at some other school, then I am stealing your money."
It would be very difficult to find a student who feels shortchanged by one of Friedrich's classes. Of course, Friedrich notes, when you work at a place like Willamette, getting inspired to teach is the easiest part of his job. "This faculty has some of the highest morale I've ever seen. People feel appreciated and respected for their work. I think most faculty believe, and rightly so, that it's a privilege to work here."
While many of Friedrich's students may never develop the same refined taste that he has for bell curves or regression analysis, they still find his courses to be a banquet of learning.