Helicopter Professor and Proud!Barry Thomas | Adjunct Professor, Carroll Community College
The term “helicopter professor” has begun to emerge in various higher education media lately. I believe the term started to become popular approximately one year ago, when Mr. Berlin Fang, Director of Institutional Design at the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning at Abilene Christian University, posted an article for Faculty Focus. By my interpretation, the main thrust of his article focused on how professors sometimes overly indulge students and modify the frequency and style of helping students. In a similar article for HigherEdJobs, Mr. Fang outlined the positive and negative aspects linked with helicopter professors. While I am not enumerating the listings provided by Mr. Fang, I will give my perspective of helicopter professors and their impact on adult learners.
For many years, I have provided additional support and guidance to my students (i.e., extensions of due dates, extra credit activities, and emails reminding students of assignments). It has been my philosophy to aid and empower students, and these methods (among many) have proven useful. When interacting with adult learners, these supplemental activities become even more essential given the challenges facing adult learners.
While some in higher education may see these activities as enabling and even coddling students, I see them as empowering and helping adult learners reach their goals. First and foremost, it is important for professors to engage and interact with adult learners in order to obtain the maximum productivity from them. Many adult learners have a history of being focused and dedicated to their college programs. They invest themselves to the max and a gentle reminder (or two) will not negate the adult learners’ accountability for their performances and their firm dedication in completing their programs.
While a few researchers promote the philosophy of the strict and tough approach in guiding students, I support this philosophy only to a degree. As I reflected on my many years of college teaching, I have seen the need to be firm with various aspects of the syllabus as well as urging the students to be independent thinkers. The new college body (adult learners) needs a modification of approaches in order to be successful. From my interactions with adult learners, I have sensed a real and genuine purpose toward learning. They are not asking for favors. The adult learners are seeking opportunities to grow and learn just like the traditional students.
I see a vital and positive link with helicopter professors and adult learners. The helicopter professors can provide limited and useful advice to the adult learners as they (the adult learners) navigate their respective college programs. If institutions aspire to be student-centered, then I see the helicopter professors as an integral tool toward their success.
My advice to helicopter professors (or potential helicopter professors) is to embrace the adult learners as you would the traditional students and see them as a unique and special student body component. I recommend assessing their individual needs and challenges and responding accordingly. The adult learners have proven track records and need modified assurances of their progress and pace of study. I do not see this investment as pampering but as authentic connection that will reap great educational dividends.
Author Perspective: Educator