By Dr. Pelham Mead III

The Peanut Butter Syndrome in College Professors

By Dr. Pelham Mead III, Ed.D.

In my twelve years of working with College and University professors in technology I found one principle to be true. College and University professors, because they are so smart and high achieving tend to spread themselves too far and too thin. I call this the Peanut Butter Syndrome. Often a Professor who is an expert in a certain field like Math tries to extend his or her expertise to another academic field like Biology. They find themselves being stressed and challenged because their knowledge of Biology is severely limited. This Peanut Butter syndrome often happens in Instructional Technology. Professors who can do e-mail think that are computer proficient when in fact they cannot do Excel, Powerpoint, or Access. Professors have to learn to give themselves time to learn new applications instead of ramming them down their own throats. Taking clinics and get mentoring or tutoring is a great way too improved in instructional technology.

In College and Universities today Professors should never let the students know more about instructional technology than they do. This reversal of roles leads to mistrust by students of a professor’s capabilities. The trick is to stay one step ahead of the students.

The Peanut Butter syndrome teaches us that spreading one’s knowledge or commitment to thin leads to inefficiency and error. Many Professors think they can do everything in technology when in fact they are but beginners. Over stating one’s ability in instructional technology is another symptom of the Peanut Butter syndrome. Professors are better off sticking with the academic venue they are best at and not to venture into the unknown.

With so many Colleges and Universities during the pandemic using onscreen instruction in 2021 many bad habits developed by Professors. Some Professors in need of money took on more online courses than they could efficiently handle. The student evaluations were poor and their response time was too long. Again the Peanut butter syndrome of spreading one’s skills to wide and too thin to be effective takes place. Greed can backfire for professors that try to teach too many online courses at one time. Online teaching is based on a degree of trust by the student in the professor’s response time and quality of responses.  Motivation is the key to a successful online experience if the student trusts that the Professor is focused on the course and its delivery online.

The Peanut Butter Syndrome is a concept that in this day and age that Professors need to stay focused in their area of expertise and not over commit themselves to other academic pursuits or focus areas. Staying the course and keeping in line with the course objectives is primary to a successful online experience for students. Professors that are spread too thin fall behind in office appointments and get graded papers back to students after weeks of delays. Prompt response to student submissions is critical to keeping the pace of an online course going.

Lastly, my advice to Professors suffering from Peanut Butter Syndrome is to stay focused on your goals and objectives. Don’t venture out of your area of expertise . Stay with what you know, rather than spread out so far that you are over-committed. You strength is in the middle of your career expertise, not the edges.

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