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A Service of the BYU Faculty Center

Research by the Faith & Learning Initiative

Spiritually Strengthening and Intellectually Enlarging Professors: Four Questions Students Ask (Birch & Wilkins, 2018)

In a previous paper the Faculty Center reported on the principal factors that BYU students say make the greatest difference in whether a professor is both spiritually strengthening and intellectually enlarging (see Wilkins & Birch, 2011). In this paper, we present a useful way to categorize these factors, to make them memorable and therefore of more practical use to faculty. These categories are in the form of four questions that students ask. The first three they ask of their professors. The last one they ask of themselves:

  • Who are you?
  • Who am I to you?
  • Why does this course matter?
  • Who am I?

This paper explores these questions by examining the key characteristics of spiritually strengthening and intellectually enlarging faculty. It also suggests ways faculty can help students find meaningful answers to these questions.

Spiritually Strengthening and Intellectually Enlarging Faculty: What Students Want (Wilkins & Birch, 2011)

What makes for a quality education at a religious university? In this research study, we asked both faculty and students at Brigham Young University to describe the factors that make a difference in an education that is both “spiritually strengthening and intellectually enlarging.” We explore the role that the gospel can play in secular learning and what students consider important in their courses and in their professors. One conclusion we draw from the data is that who the professor is (faculty characteristics) is more important that what the professors does (faculty techniques).

Teaching by the Spirit - Faculty Perceptions (Arnesen & Birch, 2018)

During the Winter 2014 semester, the Faculty Center teamed up with Dr. Bob Ridge’s Applied Social Psychology class to interview 19 faculty members across campus about their experiences with teaching by the Spirit. For one week prior to the interviews, faculty were asked to keep a record of experiences during that week when they felt inspired by the Spirit of God in their teaching. Dr. Ridge's students then interviewed each professor and 1-2 students in his or her class. This short paper highlights one of the key differences we discovered between various faculty in their understanding and practice of teaching by the Spirit.

MS Thesis: Authentic Purposeful Design Within Moral Spaces of Teaching at BYU (Ferrin, 2018)

This master's thesis considers the moral goods of teaching and presents the cases of three faculty. Each case looks at the role of purposeful course design in the faculty's efforts to achieve excellence in their teaching.

Teaching That Influences Student Character Development: A Preliminary Investigation (Ferrin, Wilkins, & Johnson, 2017)

In Winter semester of 2013, the Faculty Center collaborated with Dr. Bob Ridge’s undergraduate applied social psychology class to study the role BYU faculty members play in helping students develop character. Dr. Ridge’s 30 students each conducted interviews with two students outside their class. Our first few attempts at analyzing the data were unsatisfactory. Then in 2015 we discovered NVivo, a qualitative data analysis software tool. This software has made possible new explorations of the interviews and helped us gain preliminary insights into what contributes to building students’ character at BYU.

Is Good Teaching at BYU Unique? (Dixon & Wilkins, 2016)

In previous studies we have discovered 19 variables representing professor actions and characteristics that are perceived by students to be most helpful in strengthening them both intellectually and spiritually. We noticed that several of these variables were the sorts of things that the literature on good teaching recommends. On the other hand, a number of the factors seem to be quite unique to BYU. We wondered whether the impacts on intellectual and spiritual development of BYU students could be largely attributed to generally good teaching or whether there were additional positive contributions from the unique mission and attributes of BYU.

PhD Dissertation: An Assessment of the Effects of Spiritual and Relational Teaching on Student Learning (Hiatt, 2016)

Research suggests that students are more interested than faculty in addressing spirituality in the classroom. This study tested the extent to which professors could meet student demand for greater attention to spirituality in their classes without sacrificing rigor and student learning. Previous research done at Brigham Young University (BYU) identified three areas of focus that are important to implementing spirituality into the classroom: Professor Self-Disclosure, Intellectual Connections, and Interpersonal Connections. Research on the integration of faith and learning also supports these focus areas. Two BYU professors from different colleges were recruited for participation in this study.

What Distinguishes Most from Least Effective Faculty in Spiritually and Intellectually Strengthening? (Wilkins & Dixon, 2016)

We explore what differentiates those who are seen as least effective in both spiritual and intellectual influence from those who are seen as most effective in both types of influence. In this study we asked a random sample of sophomores and juniors at BYU to describe their most effective BYU professor in strengthening them both spiritually and intellectually and their least effective professor.

PhD Dissertation: Learning to Become: An Exploration of Transformative Faculty Development (Wilkins, 2015)

This multi-article dissertation explores the experience of becoming a professor who effectively facilitates students’ identity formation. While the growing body of literature on student transformation suggests that faculty must transform themselves to authentically invite change in others, little research has been done on helping professors become mentors who facilitate students’ movement toward their potential for meaningful contribution.

What Students Don’t Like: Distinguishing Least from Most Successful Professors ... (Wilkins, Birch, Riley, & Ferrin, 2013)

During winter semester 2012, we collaborated with Dr. Robert Ridge to conduct a survey and focus groups to investigate what separates the most from the least successful BYU professors in terms of being spiritually and intellectually strengthening. Previously, our research had described what the most successful faculty do to be both spiritually and intellectually strengthening, but we had never investigated what the faculty members who are least successful do and how the most successful professors differed from them.