Get to know each student as an individual

Make an effort to provide personal attention to our students by getting to know each student as an individual.

What is the value of getting to know each student?

Students are impressed and feel connected to an academic program when they receive personal attention (Davis, 2007). Models have been established that demonstrate a significant connection between student satisfaction as it relates to student success and retention (Sanders & Burton, 1996). Availability of the right kinds of academic and personal support strongly influence a student’s decision to withdraw from or continue on at an institution (Rickinson & Rutherford, 1995). Getting to know each student as an individual has the potential for enhancing our recruitment efforts.

What do faculty and instructors need to get to know their students?

To get to know each student our faculty and instructors need:

  1. to know the student’s name
  2. be able to visually recognize the student
  3. be able to relate to the student’s past experiences
  4. connect with the student’s perspectives and abilities

What are the outcomes from this effort?

The outcomes from getting to know the student as an individual include:

  1. Utilization of available knowledge to construct adequate academic scaffolding and personal support for each student
  2. Enhanced, personalized learning and environment for students
  3. Increased retention of students at the institution

What methods could we utilize to get to know each student?

One method, as suggested by a colleague in the Department of Music, would be to include a photo of students on the course rosters — providing a visual reference for memorization of names and the ability to have personalized conversations with every student. Potential risks to such a practice include government regulations regarding privacy as well as issues with technical implementation and support. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) sets standards regarding use and sharing of student records. School officials are enabled, under 34 CFR § 99.31, to provide private information to other school officials with “legitimate educational interest” (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). Though ideally, permission to access individual student details should be granted by each student to specific third parties.

The risk to including photos on course rosters in regards to technical implementation and support is that student information and course management systems used by the majority of higher education institutions do not have support for displaying an avatar/photo of members of the community, interaction outside of individual courses, nor do they support a detailed individual profile. Modifying the existing systems to include these features would require significant ongoing financial and time resources.

Institutional data resources and integrated infrastructure appear to be unable to accommodate or rapidly adapt to our current and evolving needs for getting to know each student as an individual in order to have a positive impact on retention. So, what else could we do?

Consider using established social networking tools

Go where the students are. Students are using online social networks like Facebook. These social networks enable students to voluntarily post information about themselves, to join specific groups within the community, sign-up to attend events, and to become ‘friends’ with other community members.

Faculty and instructors could follow the lead of John M. Dunn (who has 203 friends at WMU on Facebook) and Diether Haenicke (who has 963 friends at WMU on Facebook) and open a Facebook account and start interacting online with students and colleagues at WMU.

Faculty and instructors could create a Facebook group for their course and during the first week of class encourage their students to join the group. Student participation with the activity should be voluntary — but, incentive could be given to students to encourage them to join (e.g. credit towards 10% of an exam score — a chance to bump their points by a full grade on one exam). From there faculty and instructors could learn more about each of their students, relate weekly lessons to things the students are experiencing in their day-to-day lives or had experienced in their past.

Ice breakers could include: post five things we don’t know about you, tell us about your favorite book, what do you hope to do after graduation? etc…

Ultimately the result is a strengthened and enhanced university community grounded in the practice of getting to know every student as a unique individual.


Davis, P. M. How much of an Edge at WMU? Retrieved September 4, 2007, from

Rickinson, B., & Rutherford, D. (1995). Increasing undergraduate student retention rates. – British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 23(2), 161-172. Retrieved October 3, 2007, from

Sanders, L., & Burton, J. D. (1996). From retention to satisfaction: New outcomes for assessing the freshman experience. Research in Higher Education, 37(5), 555-567. Retrieved October 3, 2007, from

U.S. Department of Education. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved October 3, 2007, from

One Response

  1. Toby October 9, 2007

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