Dr. Greg Dixon of the Political Science Department at the University of West Georgia has been rated the twelfth best professor in the whole of the United States by ratemyprofessor.com. He also rates high internally within the school’s own rating system. He teaches both International Relations and American Politics.
“To my upper-division classes I give three large substantive assignments and a paper per semester,” says Dr. Dixon. He has been teaching for ten years and has been building on student feedback all that time. The key to running a successful student survey is to tell the students it will not be passed on to a higher department, and because of this, Dixon has received brutally honest results on his surveys.
“I didn’t get the books and I should have got the books and that hurt me, but what you’re doing is fine,” one student said. Dixon has a strong belief that students are the key to knowing what is going on in the course, not “the sales reps from textbooks.” He has discovered after ten years of careful work, planning and listening to students, that the best way to study is to focus on a few big tests or papers per semester, rather than an abundance of busy work.
“I post all the exams on the first day of class, so everyone reading the textbook knows exactly what they’re getting into,” said Dixon. “For most students this works very well.” He is at pains to point out that the students who leave it until 11 p.m. the night before their assignments are due will never do as well, but some students just live off adrenaline.
His teaching style remains largely unchanged compared with any other teacher.
“With my American Government classes, I mostly lecture,” said Dixon. “With the caveat being that if a student doesn’t understand, then they can ask questions.”
Because a large majority of his upper-division classes are now taught through the internet, he records a PowerPoint with his voice which explains each slide. This means that when the classes do meet in a formal environment, they can just discuss the material which was offered earlier in the week. It is very important to keep political science classes relevant, and a lot of these discussion classes are purely current events. Dixon’s international relations course oftentimes uses stories from the BBC World Service as course material.
His tips to any student that are soon-to-be graduating into the world of work are to “work hard” and to “take part in every opportunity [they] can.” He can say this from a good perspective as he has worked in the so-called “real world” for many years prior to becoming a teacher. Before his teaching career, he was the man who sat reading through the resumés to decide who would be hired.
“To have nothing but a professor as your reference doesn’t help a company in telling them what an employee is going to be like,” said Dixon, and this is why he insists it is so important that students get out there, network, make contacts and get internships. “Anyone who can write you a positive reference who isn’t a college professor makes a big difference.”