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What Should Educators Do When Students Show No Interest in Traditional Learning?

What Should Educators Do When Students Show No Interest in Traditional Learning?

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Start a management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

Faculty have always taken pride in the job that they do and are serious about ensuring that students have the best learning experience. However, recent trends indicate that the classroom experience today differs from what it was in the past. Two factors have been student expectation and performance in the classroom.

Some instructors say students have different agendas today, but do they really? Below are three typical scenarios from faculty discussions.

Scenario 1

A faculty member shares his concern that students do not take feedback seriously and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of improvement in their work.

Scenario 2

A student is doing her homework while at work. One of her co-workers notices that she uses the Internet for everything. When asked what she is learning on the Internet and does she ever use a textbook, her response is that she is passing the course using “just in time” resources like the Internet.

Scenario 3

After a few years of seeing a trend in his classes, a faculty member designs a class where students are given the option of completing only those assignments that will allow them to get the grade they want.

Some students do not strive for an “A.” Some take the class to satisfy an employment agreement; therefore, their goal is to achieve a passing grade of “C.”

I hear these scenarios often. Depending on the individual faculty member, these situations can be frustrating and almost make you want to give up teaching. However, there is a lesson to be learned from each of the cases:

Scenario 1 – These are examples of students who just don’t care about learning. However, sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know.

Although you provide them with feedback on how to correct their errors, how do you relay that information? Do you refer them to a site? Are you offering detailed feedback with examples of the right way to proceed? Do you assume they should know the information, given the level of the course?

Scenario 2 – There are students who believe the Internet is a wealth of knowledge and is the first reference source to find an answer to any problem, including assessments in the classroom. How do faculty relay to students the credibility of various Internet sources (i.e., those reputable sources which are considered scholarly and peer reviewed)? Is the practice of treating everything on the Internet as a reliable source one of the reasons that we have issues with fake news?

Also, what type of message does using the Internet rather than textbooks send to textbook publishers? Is there a lesson for instructional designers regarding the kinds of assessments they design for courses?

Scenario 3 – Should everyone strive for an “A” to prove mastery of classroom knowledge or is merely passing the course acceptable? Do employers reward employees for getting a grade higher than a “C” or is passing satisfactorily enough to receive tuition reimbursement? What about students taking classes just for personal fulfillment?

Students Who Are Not Motivated to Learn Will Not Be Good Job Candidates

Now, I want to take off my “educator” hat and put on my “employer” hat.

I have reviewed resumes and conducted interviews when employment candidates have beamed speaking of their high GPAs. Unfortunately, when we start to ask them behavioral or situational questions, they are unable to respond appropriately. That occurs even when the questions focus on the area in which they obtained their degree.

When I see these scenarios, I wonder, is it a case of grade inflation? Or have students cracked the education system and developed a process to pass their classes just by learning how to be good test takers?

Regardless of the answer, the fact remains that we have a lose-lose situation when graduates are not adequately prepared to master the world of work in the specialties they have spent years studying.

What Can We Do to Improve Student Knowledge and Retention?

We need to rethink how we measure success in the classroom. We must also find out how our graduates translate what they should have learned into something applicable when they attempt to impress employers with their degree. (READ: What is their return on investment?)

As we brainstorm some possible alternatives to what we have been doing as educators, here are some thoughts from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. His topic was the relationship among competition, grades and learning in education.

Key points from Thiel:

  • The system is set up with the belief that grades play two primary roles: the role of measuring how much you’ve learned and the role of motivating students to do better. But as a side effect, grades also breed competition.
  • Learning and grades are opposites. Learning is a personal endeavor and is always best achieved by having the personal drive to learn.
  • By standardizing learning and encapsulating it within grades, we take out the most powerful force of learning and turn it into a routine.
  • And even though grades don’t inherently cause competition, they do create a quantified gauge – an arbitrary number that is supposed to reflect how well students have learned. Unfortunately, instead of serving as a guideline, grades are used not to reflect how well students have learned, but how well they can avoid the social, academic or employment punishments that come with poor grades.
  • Learning is also an organic process in which you take in knowledge presented by another human being and integrate it into your own life. It’s almost an adaptation of knowledge into understanding and application.
  • I do my best learning through personal curiosity, creativity and self-directed practice. I find that a very good way to become disinterested in a subject is to take a class in that subject.
  • Learning is most powerful when it is organic, and our education system is often the furthest thing from organic.

My response to frustrated faculty members is “hold to your standard” and continue to challenge students to do what is right. That’s how they get an “ethical” return on their investment.

Although Thiel challenges the value of a college degree – a notion that runs counter to what I do professionally – I can understand how he arrives at his conclusion. We progressive educators should not discredit what he says. Instead, we should consider countering his arguments with proposals on how to change the formal learning environment, so that we return to a win-win scenario.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.

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