Professors are almost a breed apart. They seem to have the world’s biggest brains, holding about as much information as the entire Wikipedia database, and they are able to convey this information to others with ease. They can even answer questions if they are interrupted in mid-sentence. They really are a special kind of people, which is why there are so few of them about.
Thomas M Rollins Teaching is a company that started to develop The Great Courses some 25 years ago. They were then, as they are now, incredibly innovative in as such that they delivered education in a digitized form, first through video tapes and now through streaming apps (The Great Course Plus). One of the key things that has always set them apart, as well, is that they have always ensured that their courses were delivered by the top 1% of professors in the world. This means that they not only went out to find professors, a difficult enough task in itself, but that they found the very best professors. This is because they believe, quite rightly so, that only the best of the best has sufficient knowledge, but also is able to convey that information in an interesting and engaging manner that keeps students gripped, even with digital information.
How the Top 1% of Professors Are Identified
What are the key factors that Thomas M Rollins looks for in a great professor? Naturally, that is something they are somewhat secretive about, since it would give others the opportunity to replicate their models, or it could give bad professors the chance to try and fake it. However, they have divulged eight key things that they look for in particular, which are similar to those that universities the world over look for when hiring new faculty staff. They are:
- That the professor doesn’t treat students as of lesser value or unlearned, but that they teach them almost as a friend.
- That they can control an audience, but without becoming authoritative or authoritarian. Students must want to listen to them out of their own volition.
- That existing materials are taken to a whole new level. This is particularly important in the digital age, where everything is available online, including on Wikipedia.
- That they treat every individual equally. The Great Courses, for instance, will never start with suggestions that someone who has already studied a specific subject in the past will find the course more or less interesting or important than someone else. Each participant is the equal of their peers, and professors must focus on making them feel this way.
- That they have a sense of humor. Laughter is the best medicine. It breaks the ice and relaxes people, and also gives a professor or lecturer are more human appearance. It raises everybody up to the same level, in other words.
- That they understand their students, rather than putting unrealistic expectations in place. Old fashioned statements such as “by now you should have learned that…” really shouldn’t be used anymore, as they break down the motivation of anyone who was still in the process of learning that.
- If they make promises, they keep them. This is something particularly important for The Great Courses. If a professor promises to teach people rocket science within 90 minutes, they better do exactly that.
- They embrace change, a vital component to a happy, healthy life, and something that they should role model to their students.