Power and Influence in the VT Classroom

File:5th Floor Lecture Hall.jpg

All of this reading about power and influence got me thinking.  There is quite a bit of power/influence surrounding students, faculty, and administrators in Higher Education settings.  How have you seen power and influence, particularly in classroom settings?  It might help to think about French and Raven’s (1959) notions of Referent, Legitimate, Expert, Reward, or Coercive power (as described in the recent handout).  It might also be interesting for you to talk about what you expected in your various classes and what you see.

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46 Responses to Power and Influence in the VT Classroom

  1. Suzanne Berry says:

    I think that the amount and type of power and influence that professors and students have in classes is dependent upon class size. The power that a professor has over a large lecture class seems to be a power that says “This is what we’re doing and this is how we’re doing it”. But, on the other hand, they don’t have too much power over what students actually do during the lectures. This is why iClickers are sometimes used. In a smaller class setting, professors seem to give more power to students as to how the class will be run. But, they have more power as to what students do during class (cell phones, Facebook, etc). Students easily influence other students. For example, my physics lecture doesn’t use computers. It’s not a rule that we can’t have them out, but typically, only about two or three people in the 200 person lecture does. Also, if students see other people on their phones, they will want to get on their phones too. This is especially true for freshmen in the first few weeks of class, since they don’t exactly know the expectations in class.

  2. Alexander Jones says:

    Power and influence can be seen in all of my classes here at Virginia Tech. The class that catches my attention the most though on this certain topic is my Architecture Foundations studio class. The minimal power and influence of the professor demands the students to work together to find solutions to the assignments. I feel like the professor at times is just another one of us, as she is there to give guidance and support, but still allows you to make all of your own decisions and the path you take. I really wish that I had more classes like it, because the way the class is set up makes the four hour class go by faster than my 50 minute classes. For once I am able to make my own decisions and challenge my work, instead of having to do exactly what the professor says to do. The students feel like they have power and influence.

  3. Lindsay DeMers says:

    Power and influence have an interesting role in my bio lab class. My TA has both power and influence because of legitimate, expert, and coercive power. Because of her power over us, she influences us to perform experiments in a careful, meticulous manner. However, we are divided into table groups of four, and I have noticed within my group that someone usually needs to take charge to get things going or else no one does anything (they just sit in silence looking for waiting for someone else to initiate the experiment). The mover and shaker of this table group does not necessarily have power but influences the other people to come together to communicate and figure out the experiment; this person also serves as a guide and helps provide structure, so people know what to do. Thus the student leader has influence but little power; however, if I were to pick a type of power the student has, it would be expert power (some understanding of the workings of the experiment at hand).

  4. emmahdouglas says:

    I agree with Suzanne’s statement that the amount of power and influence in a class depends on department and class size. I would say that in my smaller classes here at Virginia Tech, my professors have much more power and influence simply because it is much more feasible to exert power and influence over a smaller number of students. For example, in both my leadership class and my English class, my professors have zero-tolerance policies regarding cell phone use. Policies like that would be impossible to uphold in 600-person lecture classes; therefore, my leadership and English professors have more power over students. These two professors, just because of the small class size are able to exercise referent power, legitimate power, coercive power, and reward powers.

  5. Kristen Fisher says:

    I have experienced power and influence in all of my classes here at Virginia Tech. I am in the Integrated Science Curriculum class, in which there are only 24 kids in the class. The small class size allows us to influence and have power over each other. It is very easy for my peers to influence me because we all have different goals and some different majors. We all had a different, but inspiring reason that we wanted to be in the ISC program. The influence we have over each other is amazing because it enables us to learn, grow, and teach each other together. The power my peers in ISC have over each other is pretty incredible. We often remind each other that we need to go to class, and have the power to threaten others that they must come to class. We have group assignments in which we can have the power to make sure everyone takes part in the assignment. This class allows us to influence and have power in the classroom. The professor often tells us inspiring stories relating exactly to our lives. He also sometimes steps us and says “we are doing this my way.” However, often our professors give us the chance to talk in class, ask questions, write on the board, and teach during class. Power and influence go hand in hand, and make this class a true learning experience that is more than just math and science.

  6. Courtney McPherson says:

    In my elective Design Appreciation class, power and influence are really interesting ideas to tackle. The professor, yes, has legitimate, reward, and expert power, but his main goal is to give us the “power to be influenced.” He began the year by telling us how he has been teaching this lecture for years, he knows the material, but at the same time, the topic is so opinionated and so in depth and particular and interesting, we have the power to let the information and his teaching style influence our daily schedule or outlook on life.
    I find it quite interesting because power seems overbearing and influence seems so “powerful”, and I thought with power comes influence, but in this class I don’t have expert, reward, or legitimate power, but the “power to be influenced”.

  7. Daniel M says:

    My World Regions class is an excellent demonstration of power and influence from both the professor and the students. It’s a 3000 person class, and yet most everyone still shows up and enjoys listening to Mr. Boyer rant. The class can still guide discussions the way they want them to go (by texting certain keywords to the professor). If someone says something in class and enough people back them, Mr. Boyer will modify the class to their desires.

  8. Jasmine Porter says:

    I believe that power and influence is different in a college setting that high school. Professors that have to instruct huge classes such as one hundred students or more can limit how much power and influence the professor has on the student. In a large setting, it is up to the student to stay focused, listen to lectures and get work done. Because the class is so large it makes it difficult for the professor to control what the students are doing. There are copious amounts of distractions such as: texting, facebook and twitter. Unlike a smaller class of fifty students a professor has more control over their students and what they are doing.

    • Catherine (Cate) Beach says:

      I agree with Jasmine on this because in high school the teachers were able to control the students to an extent and monitor what the students did giving them power. In college on the other hand, professors don’t have the resources to breath down every students back and make sure they do there work and pay attention. It takes more influence to keep the students attentive and motivated in class, so the better the professor is at influencing students to stay focused and work, the better the professor is in my opinion.

  9. Sam Weber says:

    There is definitely a large amount of power present in the classroom setting at Virginia Tech. I believe most of the power in the classroom is reward power because most students go to class so that they can learn the material and get good grades. If going to class had absolutely no affect on a students grade, many more students would not go to class at all. However many students go to class not only to help them get good grades, but because the legitimately want to learn. In this case expert and referent power are present because students go to class to gain knowledge from their professors or because they like their professors. There is also coercive power present because in many classes students loose points for not being in class. However I believe the most dominant of all these is reward power because students go to class mostly so that they can get good grades.

  10. Dixon Holland says:

    There is no doubt that in a classroom setting, the Leader-Follower form of leadership is present because clearly, the teacher is the leader, and their students are the followers. The teacher is the leader because they initiate the class discussion and they teach the students what they need to know in order to succeed. The students are the followers because they listen to the teacher, and does everything that they must do in order to succeed. Now, after the student’s education is complete, they can become the new leaders of our future. They can use what they have learned from their teachers, and they can lead others on a good path to get any job done.

  11. Carly Scullin says:

    I believe that some of my professors have more power and influence than others. For example, my biology class has around 300 students in it. Each week the class is assigned work to do, but most students ignore doing it and accept the bad grade. My professor will say something to the class about the lack of participation, but most students ignore the warning because the professor has no real power over the class. There are also only around 150 students who show up regularly to class .This professor lacks the ability to connect with the class because he does not connect with any of the students on a personal level, especially because he is rarely available during his office hours.

  12. Grace Ellis says:

    When I was signing up for classes this summer, I initially tried to register for classes with small sizes, thinking that I would learn better in that environment. Unfortunately I ended up in mostly large classes. I was worried that I would not have a good connection to the professors and would not be able to pay attention or keep up with the work. It turned out to be completely opposite. My biggest classes are some of my favorites. On the first day of each class, I introduced myself to the professors. Instead of feeling lost in the crowd, students can feel included and important in large classes headed by professors that are interactive and inclusive leaders. The students that attend class regularly and participate or are attentive during lectures and discussions most likely have a better relationship with the professor and are more capable of reaching the goal of the course: learning and applying new skills and ways of thinking.

  13. Victoria Gray says:

    A Virginia Tech professor certainty has a level of power and influence over their students but I believe each teacher chooses to embrace and use their power differently. My Econ Food and Fiber Systems professor, Kurt Stephenson, uses referent power in order to engage his students. The class is very large, yet he knows many of his students personally and we often have class debates and discussion. He is so entertaining and earns our respect through his enthusiasm and relationship with students.

  14. Jake Brown says:

    I believe professors at Virginia Tech have as much power as they want to have. If they want to make it so all 600 students aren’t allowed to use their cell phone they can do that. It may not be logical to enforce a rule like tat but its defiantly possible because they have positional power.

  15. Macy Kinder says:

    The power and influence in my LAHS class is different then I thought it was going to be. When I first attended the class, I thought I was going to have one teacher in charge of leading the class and influencing the class. However, my LAHS class has a teacher and a TA. My teacher has the power over what the class does every meeting, but my TA influences the class because she is the one who gets all of the students to do work.

  16. Rachel E says:

    I knew college would be different from high school but I did not realize it would be this different. I went to a private catholic school that was very strict so now that I am at Virginia Tech, it seems so relaxed. At my high school, rules were strictly enforced but here the power and influence is shown differently. In classes here, for example my chemistry class has over 350 people and so class is run simply through lecture three times a week. There is no room for extra questions whereas in my APSC class, there is room for discussion about interesting topics relating to the lecture. In my APSC class, our professor does not seem to show that we are subordinates, we seem equals. This power and influence is demonstrated in APSC but it is not the most important aspect of her teaching style.

  17. Esther Jeong says:

    Like many of my colleagues have stated, power from faculty to student ratio has some dependence on class size but i also do think that it depends on the subject of the matter. I would say that our leadership class is roughly the same size as my studio and the dynamic is completely different. In leadership, i would say that we have Sarah who is the clear leader and we are her followers in that she is teaching us about leadership and it is finite transaction. We do have the opportunity to voice our opinions but because of the subject i don’t see much leeway in the power ratio. However, in studio because the subject (who know what the subject is…its not architecture) the power is nearly equal because not only are we creating and making things to learn from what we make ourselves and our peers but our professor is there to guide us and shifts the project in the direction that we, the students, are pushing the project towards.

  18. Lauren Nance says:

    I agree with what several people have said about power and influence depending on the class size. Most chemistry classes have at least 400 people in them. I believe that my teacher is power-hungry and enjoys the feeling she gets standing in front of a large class. It seems like she doesn’t try to go the extra mile to help us understand concepts like should. I hear my other friends talking about their chem classes and they said their professors do demonstrations in almost every lecture. Mine though, has only done one all year and expects us to be able to know what she’s talking about without too much explanation. I think this is an example of how power is above influence in this particular class at Virginia Tech.

  19. Thomas Nave says:

    As most people have already stated, the amount of power that the students have really depends on the class size obviously. When I am in my five-hundred person business class, I feel like I wield hardly any power at all. I am very intimidated to talk to the professor, especially in front of all those people. But in my thirty person Communication Skills class, I feel more comfortable about asking question and answering them as well. The amount of power the student has depends on the class size.

  20. kelsey edmonds says:

    Like many people stated before,power and influence is directly linked with class size. However, I believe even in a 300 person lecture hall, a professor still has referent, expert,legitimate, and reward power. The professor has referent power if they are well liked by the students and expert power because they are knowledgeable of their subject matter. One of my professors actually wrote the book we are being taught out of so this definitely gives him more respect and authority. Lastly, professors have legitimate power because of their job title from the university and reward power because students want to benefit by receiving good grades. However, the only thing that sometime lacks in a big college classroom compared to high school is coercive power. Being the nature it is, professors do not have the time to yell at each individual student that talks during their class or skips class all together. If students would rather get distracted by facebook or texting rather than listening to the lecture, the professor usually will not get involved. College is truly about being independent and figuring out things on your own. Therefore, students do not even need to have coercive power in their classes. What really drives students to pay attention and away from distractions are predominatly their grades and wanting to make a good impression with professors.

  21. Emily Hucks says:

    As everyone else has stated, the power and influence is directly related to the size of the class that you are in. Thomas made a point that he had little power when he is in a class of 500 instead of a class about 30, like our leadership classes. Even though a small class size doesn’t mean there is more power and influence in the student, like in my Intro into animal and poultry science lab we students aren’t comfortable asking and answering questions.

  22. Courtney Green says:

    I agre with many of my peers above. I definitely think that all of my professors have power and influence over the students. However, some have more than others. For example, I feel that my professors who teach smaller classes, such as my leadership class, are able to have greater influence over me. It makes what they are saying more personal. Also they have more power.

  23. Francisco Gabitan says:

    Personally, I’ve mostly seen Reward and Coercive Power used in a classroom setting. The former is usually in the form of a good grade which in itself is an avenue for many rewards including praise, the good grade itself or some kind of reward from parents. The latter, is of the same avenue but the opposite direction, it feels horrible to get a bad grade and my parents aren’t usually too happy either and will punish me in some way.

  24. Emma Reeves says:

    There is a considerable amount of power in the classroom setting on both the professor’s and the student’s part. Professors have expert power because they have more knowledge than any of the students, they have legitimate power because their position allows them to construct the class in any way they want, they have reward power because they can give good grades to students that work hard in their class, and they have coercive power because they can similarly give bad grades to students that are slacking. Students also have some power, specifically referent power because they may or may not recommend their professors to other students depending on their experience with the professor.

  25. Lewis Tucker says:

    Power has been very present in the classroom setting of my high school and I also experience it in college. Power is very effective in the classroom because it gets things accomplished and is normally the most time efficient. The expert power teachers have demand their students attention because of the knowledge they posses that the student needs. Teachers have a great ability to influence their students but many teachers use power to share their knowledge with the students.

  26. Andrew says:

    Teachers have the power to do practically everything they want, within reason. Teachers have authority in their classrooms, they have massive quantities of knowledge and as students you need them to learn what they are going to test you over, so they hold a certain level of power over you.

  27. Ryan Jenvey says:

    I see power and influence in several of my classes here at Virginia Tech. The class that I find it most interestingly in is my leadership class. The class isn’t simply our teacher spitting facts at us to later put down on a test like my other classes. It challenges us to think for ourselves and make our own decisions on what to believe. What I mean by that is we have influence over the discussions while our teacher can provide direction.

  28. Kristina Gallagher says:

    My biology professor, in particular, has a significant amount of expert power. He knows exactly what he is talking about and can explain the most difficult concepts with ease.

  29. Zack Snow says:

    I think a good example of having power but not influence is my high school soccer coach. He had legitimate power merely because of his position but he lacked any sort of influence on our team because we did not trust him. He lied to us continually and knew practically nothing of soccer. If you think I am overreacting, he told us he was an Army Ranger stationed in Peru because he knew how to speak Farsi all the while being a semiprofessional soccer player….

  30. David Bohn says:

    The amount of power and influence in a classroom I think depends mainly on the class size. In large lectures, the professor has power (expert power primarily) and little influence. The professor in these settings has little influence. In class students can do what every they please. They don’t have to take notes, pay attention, do iClicker questions, etc. In a smaller class setting, the professor has more control over each student and a better opportunity to connect with a student and influence them.

  31. Annie Walsack says:

    I think that the power and influence of the professor depends on how much of it they wish to have. Not all professors want to dominate with power. Some professors want the students to hold a little bit of the power as well. By doing this, the teacher creates a setting of equality. The class can then become more communicative and interactive. I suppose this can only happen in certain classes though. In a lecture setting it is very difficult to establish this type of class.

    • Taylor McClain says:

      I agree with you, Annie. Some of my classes this semester were very small. In this setting the students were given more power. This is because we were able to communicate better with the teacher and express our opinions about what we were learning and what direction we were headed.

  32. John jones says:

    I think a professor should not have to purposely try to exert power at all. Since we are all paying to be here and to be educated, it is our responsibility to go to class and listen to what they are saying. I also agree with the idea of professors having expert power in that they are very knowledgeable obviously, so by default students will want to listen to what they are saying…for the most part.

  33. Mariana Sa says:

    I believe it is common sense that we – college students – are here because of free will. I mean, none of us seems to be forced to be here, and the same is valid for the teachers. Thus, I do believe the relationship student-teacher (faculty in general) seems to be appropriate. Teachers and faculty need to keep the business running and making sure essential rules are observed, as well as students are here mostly to learn and experience college and not to break rules, so I believe there is no true power, as well as no true influence in this sense of rules. No faculty member comes to our room to wake us up to go to class, as well as we don’t text any faculty member reminding them that they have a class schedule in 30 min. Thus, I believe the VT environment is very accepting and free of powers and essential influences on the way we relate to each other.

  34. Anna Fox says:

    College professors have a huge influence on their students due to their position and power. Professors exhibit more than one type of power. The first is expert power, students show up to lectures and trust their professors because they know that the professors are very intelligent, experienced people who they can learn much from. Professors also have reward power. Students tend to show up to classes because they want the reward of a good grade which they achieve from working hard and showing the teacher that they deserve it.

  35. Katy Kelly says:

    I feel as if my first year experience class is a great example of influence. The entire class is about influencing students to get involved and try new things with their time here at Virginia Tech. My professors influence us to start working with our major and getting involved with all the clubs and events that we put on. But I also look up to them and listen because of the power that they have. These are the people who will be involved in my education and future and because of that power that they have, I let them influence my choices more.

  36. Maggie D says:

    Like the majority of people stated above, power and influence definitely varies depending on the class size. Especially in lecture classes, the professor has more power because they fly through their powerpoint presentations without answering many questions from the students because not many questions are asked. Students are more likely to ask a question in front of a class of 30 instead of a class of 400 because they feel more comfortable. Lecture classes are not as engaging as small classes where the professor knows you by name and has more influence over the students.

    • Kyla Mauro says:

      I agree with you Maggie, my lecture classes I feel like i have not significance in the class, but in a smaller class like english where there are 20 people then i have more of a voice. You can also make a stronger connection with your professor or teacher in a smaller class setting which also makes the students feel like they have more power and influence.

  37. Adam says:

    I definitely expect an expert power from all of my teachers. The reason that we listen to them is because we want to be given some of their knowledge. If a teacher did not have expert power, the students would have little respect towards them.

  38. Ethan Brown says:

    I see professors as having more expert power in classroom. By exerting expert power professors pass on their knowledge to us as students so that we may grow in our knowledge and be better prepared for a promising future.

  39. Hoo In Won says:

    I believe every type of powers are in the VT classroom: expert power, reward power, and coercive power. Professor has expert power, which makes me to pay my attention and respect. The good grade is reward power, which motivate me to study for my future. Getting bad grade is coercive power, which make me scared of getting bad grade.

    • Miles Rachner says:

      I agree with Whoon on this one. Almost everyone is driven by some aspect of influence in getting an education. I would say that most of it is reward power in the sense that they want a good grades to get a better job to have a more comfortable life down the road. The reason we pay attention and respect our teachers is because of expert power and fear of getting bad grades which is coercive power. So I agree you can find about any type of power influence in a college or any classroom in that matter.

  40. Libby Howe says:

    Professors hold a power and influence even they cannot possibly be fully aware of. Once established as a professor all interactions from thereon in are geared towards maintaining a positive report. Regardless of the subject of the professor or the tenure of the professor, a student will give respect. Why? Because professors are necessary. Students need professors for recommendations, good grades, work assistance. They influence every action of a student and students are very careful to pay attention to exactly what they do around a professor. The same goes for faculty and staff members. They all hold a power over students that students are keenly and constantly aware of.

  41. Zack Snow says:

    The transition from high school teaching to college has been an interesting one. For one, there are much bigger class sizes which usually makes people think that the class wouldn’t be as engaging. But at the same time, they are college professors and have a certain amount of clout about them. Don’t get me wrong, there are many respectable and highly intelligent and qualified high school teachers. But the fact that all of the professors have Ph. D’s means that they are generally more respected than most high school teachers were.

  42. Crista Watson says:

    I really do not think that true power exists. It all depends on the circumstances and external influences that affect what is going on in the classroom or in any work area with several people. I feel like in large lecture halls, the power lies in the hands of the professor because students usually sit and listen and not take part in the teaching. However, small labs and projects groups have the ability so spread the power. I think it just all depends on the externalities

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