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From the Students’ View: One-on-One Learning

This article was originally published in the Spring 2001 issue of the CFT’s newsletter, Teaching Forum.

by Megan Lynch

From independent study to music lessons, Vanderbilt offers students a wide variety of opportunities to get involved with faculty on an individual basic. In the following article three students discuss the ins and outs of one-on-one learning and the way it has challenged them in their studies. Brian Chow is a senior in the School of Engineering. He is currently working on an independent research project in Biomedical engineering. Brian is the president of the Engineering Council. Meg Grow is a junior on both the Blair School of Music and the School of Engineering. She has worked on an individual basis with her professor to complete a minor in the French Horn. Samir Parikh is a fourth year student at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, specializing in internal medicine.

CFT: Based on your experiences, how would you say one-on-one learning is different from the traditional classroom experience?

Chow: You get more personal attention with one-on-one learning. You also get your questions answered and can learn more from the process. There is a downside, though. You don’t know what you don’t know. In other words, in a classroom other students can ask questions and give different views on a topic. If it’s just you, then you might not think of these questions on your own.

Grow: There is definitely more interaction with one-on-one learning. You have to participate since it is only you and the teacher. Lessons are more hands-on and you have to use the time wisely. It is different from a meeting with a professor about an independent study project, for example, because with an independent study there is no formal class time; for me this is my class. It’s not just a meeting to see how far you’ve gone with your research.

Parikh: Bedside teaching is a major part of one-on-one learning. The most interesting part about bedside teaching is that as a medical student, you learn about hundreds of diseases. You hear their names, learn about their symptoms…It’s hard to remember these unless you can put a face to them. Patients can be great teachers in this context. This also broadens your understanding of medicine in a social context. It is different to learn about cancer than it is to learn from a patient fighting it. When a patient walks you through his or her story you get more detail than you would just reading a textbook. Bedside teaching also offers a unique opportunity for teacher-student interaction since students can ask questions and stimulate discussion of interest.

CFT: What are the most challenging aspects of one-on-one learning?

Chow: It means more preparation on my part. At a lecture I can sit and absorb the information. But with one-on-one learning, if I don’t hold my end of the bargain, then no learning goes on.

Grow: I have weak points that other horn players don’t have, so I can work on those each week. The lesson can change from week to week based on what I have practiced most and what I need to improve. This means working hard to practice and keep learning.

Parikh: I think to be a teacher in this situation would be more challenging especially since there is a larger importance placed on what you say. But, it’s also interesting for the students, especially when they have to ask questions to learn to stay on top of things. If they don’t take risks, extend themselves, and guess what is going on every now and then, then the material won’t stick in their heads.

CFT: What do you enjoy most about one-on-one learning?

Chow: It is very flexible, I can do my work when I want to and I am not limited to a Monday-Friday schedule. I can also do more independent thinking; I am not told what to think or what is right. There is also a very strong student-teacher relationship, which can open the doors to communication just by sitting down and talking.

Grow: I enjoy the close relationship with my professor. For the first year and a half of my horn lessons, I had a very structured lesson plan and a formal relationship with her. After taking lessons with her for almost three years now, we have become closer. Sometimes, she’ll talk about her dogs and I’ll tell her about school. In some lessons we just can’t stop laughing.

Parikh: One-on-one teaching is more intense and you learn more, especially because it is adapted to the strong and weak points of a student. One of the overlooked aspects of this is mentoring. You can talk things through and get all your questions answered. There is also more intimate interaction since the student and the teacher become friends. It’s not just about the information, but also about their lives. I think it is great when a teacher becomes a role model for a student; this can be a huge benefit.

CFT: Would you say the way a student is evaluated or graded in a one-on-one setting is different from that in a regular class?

Chow: I think it depends on the teacher. If one-on-one teaching is a new experience for the teacher and he or she has no basis on which to judge the student, then the grading standards might be different. With more experience, then the teacher will have a better basis for judgment.

Grow: I don’t think that intrinsically the grading standards change. But, each teacher grades differently and will have to adjust based on the student’s ability. For example, since I am only minoring in French Horn, my teacher would not expect me to perform on or grade me on a professional level. But, she still expects improvement on my part.

CFT: Do you have any advice for students who will be working with professors on a one-on-one basis in the future?

Chow: Choose a subject you like. Also be sure to choose an advisor you like and who you can at least work on a teacher-student level who will be open to your needs.

Grow: Get to know the teacher as quickly as possible, because the environment will be more relaxed. Also, be sure you are prepared, because when you don’t practice, it’s back to the duets book!

Parikh: What has helped me most is coming prepared. Let your natural interest in the subject stimulate you to read. Teachers get excited when they see you struggle with the material, so don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid to get a question out there. Also, practice thinking on your feet, this will help enrich your experience.


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