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A former professor shares the value of personal opinion to support student learning and discussion.


It’s not uncommon for professors to engage in soapbox moments, when they’ve deviated from curriculum, to divulge lived experiences or thoughts on a topic to provide additional context or criticism.

When David Mathieu taught at Walden University, he led an online course on higher education finance for doctoral students and found students would often run into “common wisdom.” Sometimes the common wisdom was present in the material itself, but other times students would draw on their experiences working at or attending a college or university.

To push students to think more critically and engage in healthy debate, Mathieu began offering his own sentiments in class discussion boards, which he called “David’s $0.03.”

How it worked: Every week, students responded to a prompt related to the presented topic or materials.

In the discussion boards, Mathieu would offer his “three cents” to students—often appropriately priced, he jokes—drawing on his experiences and expertise in the field in short spurts, anywhere from 100 to 500 words.

I would hate to have you go through the course without some of the information I have learned over 35 plus years … so I will be interjecting some of these perspectives when the discussions move in a particular direction that make the information timely,” Mathieu wrote in his first day comments to students.

Most information was generic and not applicable to all institutions and educators, but stemmed from Mathieu’s work in administration, in his consultancy career and “spending a lot of years thinking about such matters,” he would share. The tone could be humorous, challenging or contrary, but always on-topic and relevant.

However, Mathieu left the debate open to students to counter with their own experiences, education and views of higher education, which often change his own mind.

The impact: Over the years, the three-cent essays became a token of the course and a highlight of student feedback in course evaluations.

“In-course student feedback as well as post-course reviews cited the usefulness of the essays, their timeliness and the challenges to the ‘common wisdom’ that they represented,” Mathieu says. The comments also aided the online course model, he adds.

Mathieu, now retired, encourages professors to find areas of a course where they can share personal experiences with a friendly method of enhancing and challenging course content.

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