Saturday, March 19, 2011

Do We Have To Go To Class?

“Actually Going to Class, for a Specific Course? How 20th-Century.: New learning technologies prompt a rethinking of traditional course structure,” Jeffery R. Young, February 27, 2011.

This article explored the problems many faculty have of student attendance in a face-to-face classroom and how different types of technology are affecting this issue. The author cited that much research has shown learning outside of the traditional face-to-face classroom has the potential to be more deeply engaging for students. He also pointed out that traditional lecture and testing in classes often leads to quickly memorized, and soon forgotten, facts. Students are also cited as valuing learning outside the classroom. So Young asked “Why even have a traditional college course?”

Young touched on the controversial new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses and the accusation that traditional college education asks little of students and produces small efforts from them. Throughout the article, research and examples promote the idea of linking skills learning in classes to efforts outside the classroom.

Much of my research and experience reinforces the idea that learning must become relevant to students in order to engage their interests. The article discusses an evolution in education that is being driven by student demand, a better understanding of how students learn, and a new generation of faculty members trying tech-infused teaching methods. I would also emphasize that simply using technology is not enough to engage students; these technologies must be used well.

The article cited one professor who uses an anonymous pop quiz, asking students questions like whether they discussed the homework with a classmate and how long they spent on the reading, to demonstrate that class discussion only works when students are prepared. This professor wants his students to see him as a guide, not a gate keeper of knowledge. This is what is essential, instructors simply reading a textbook that students are perfectly capable of reading on their own is not engaging learners. Students need to be co-creators of knowledge, not passive receivers of it. Some other ways this professor used to engage students to collaborate with one another included encouraging them to pass notes in class on Twitter and to create blogs to share their insights on the course material. He then created a “mother blog” to house and link to each student’s blog. This allowed the students to collaborate with one another and engaged them to such a degree that they wanted to continue to use these tools after the course ended.

Another school created 7-week immersion programs with no lecture component that brought students together to collaborate and create. The article expands on one undergraduate student’s efforts to create a social network for “unstudents” to connect to mentors and learn by modules at their own pace, completely self-directed. Online classes that essentially provide the same content that professors regurgitate in lectures are accessible to students seeking alternatives to traditional college settings.

So what is the point of going to class when instructors are forced to use attendance policies and pop quizzes to keep students in their seats? Will the traditional college environment cease to exist? Young argues that colleges will always serve to bring smart, motivated students together in a single community. However, as one professor from Virginia Tech warned, if instructors do not expect much from students, they won’t complain. As educators, we must be facilitators of learning seeking to engage students, not just founts of knowledge now easily accessible online.

Young, J. R. (2011, February 27). Actually Going to Class, for a Specific Course? How 20th-Century.: New learning technologies prompt a rethinking of traditional course structure. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

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