In the 2017 study “What’s In A Name? The Importance Of Students Perceiving That An Instructor Knows Their Names In A High-enrollment Biology Classroom,” researchers were able to categorize three overarching reasons why students believed that having their names known by their instructors is important to them. Whether an instructor demonstrates a knowledge of the student’s name affects:
Here are some findings from this study:
Instructors in this study spent time at the beginning of the semester explaining the purpose of the name tents and explained the benefits. While students may not have attributed increased success in the class to the name tents and their instructor’s use of their names, the study indicated that the increased comfort and feeling of belonging associated with this practice encourages behavior (such as seeking help) that leads to overall course performance.
Ultimately, the study concludes that using student names is a low-effort, high-impact practice.
Whether you are teaching face-to-face, VCM, or online (asynchronous), there are strategies that you can use to learn and use your students' names while building both instructor-to-student and student-to-student rapport.
Blackboard Profiles: Encourage students to add a photo and a short personal description to their Blackboard profile - and be sure to do the same if you have not already! While uploading a picture of themselves is ideal, allow students who may not feel comfortable or safe doing so to use an avatar (such as Bitmoji), photo of a pet, or other image that is meaningful for them.
Provide prompts to help guide students in writing about themselves. Examples:
Introductions: Whether in an online forum, a virtual class meeting, or in person, have students introduce themselves with their preferred names and something simple (not too vulnerable) about themselves. Alternatively, use an icebreaker activity like “course trepidations” or “best & worst classes” from OSU’s Teaching and Learning Resource Center.
For face-to-face classes, consider using Name Tents. On the first day, ask each student to write their preferred name on both sides of the name tent (file folders work well if you don’t have card stock). Collect all the name tents at the end of class and check your memory skills by passing them out to students when you see them next. Repeat until everyone knows everyone’s name. Some instructors have adapted this high school teaching strategy that combines name tents with feedback, encouraging students to make comments or ask questions inside the tent. Instructors are able to share their responses with students when they hand the tents out again in the next class meeting.
"Getting Students' Names Right: It's Personal" by Nicole Igwe, Faculty Focus, October 17, 2016 (9 min)
Mishandling names can lead to awkward moments. For many students, name problems come on the first day of class. Here’s a tweet with the hashtag #GrowingUpWithMyName. “Knowing the pause on roll call in school was my name. I would just start saying ‘Here’ before they even tried.” Everyone knows what it is like to have their name mispronounced sometimes. But imagine what it is like to have it happen almost every time—and with an audience of new peers.
"Pronouncing Names Correctly Is More Than Common Courtesy" by Noor Wazwaz, LifeKit - NPR, April 8, 2021 (16 min)
Pronouncing names correctly is "one of those ways that you can really practice anti-racism and practice allyship in the moment," says Tulshyan, the founder of Candour, an inclusion strategy firm. It's "one of those very subtle but extremely important ways to get engaged and really stand up ... for communities that are nonwhite and largely have faced marginalization."
Name Story - In this icebreaker activity, students will have the option to share their first name, middle name, last name, nickname or any name that has a history or story such as the name of a pet or nickname given to a friend or family member. Students might consider the significance of the name, where the name comes from, or what particular meaning the name has for them.
Cooper, K.M., Haney, B., Krieg, A., & Brownell, S.E. (2017). What’s in a name? The importance of students perceiving that an instructor knows their names in a high-enrollment biology classroom. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5332051/
Johnson, E. (2018). Picking your own name. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/09/17/growing-number-colleges-let-students-pick-their-names
Korbey, H. (2017). The power of being seen. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/power-being-seen
O'Brien, M.T., Leiman, T., & Duffy, J. (2014). The power of naming: The multifaceted value of learning students' names. QUT Law Review, 14(1). https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/31373/2/01_O'Brien_The_Power_of_Naming:_The_2014.pdf