Why Do I Have to Take THIS Class?!?!?
As an English and Communication Skills instructor at a college that offers neither of these as a major, I am faced with that question fairly often. I also imagine college recruiters proudly telling my future students things like: “Don’t go to that other college and waste your time and money studying things like Russian Literature, Ancient Greek Mythology, or Documentary Filmmaking in the 1920’s. If you want to be a welder, we’ll teach you to weld…PERIOD!!”
Two months later, that student is sitting in my general studies course. He’s mad. He doesn’t like me. He thinks I am Russian Literature.
All general studies instructors have faced this issue at one time or another. Attempting to show how the competencies of our general education courses are not just hoops the college makes students jump through to gain more of their money, is a constant battle. It is also, of course, an extremely important one.
The short list of ideas presented here is not exhaustive, by any means. Neither is it an attempt to reinvent the wheel. These ideas may even seem obvious, and good teachers are likely already doing them often. Still, they are offered here because even the most seasoned professionals can use a little reminder once in a while.
Cultivating and maintaining a culture of productive learning may rely heavily on the ability of the teacher leader to keep the learner engaged. To be truly productive though, there must be a connection between that which is engaging, and the students’ perception of value. The activity (a film, scavenger hunt, jeopardy game, etc.) then is not merely a means to entertain, but rather offers the learner the opportunity to understand the concepts and ideas of their discipline in a deeper, more personal way.
Making students aware that your intention is to make your class “worth their time” is a good start toward gaining trust. The next step may be adapting lessons so there is a connectedness to the learner. One way to connect to a learner is to assess what their interests are (specifically related to their fields of study) and attempt to apply the concepts of your discipline to those. Connecting to the learner begins with an effort to understand who the learner is (and what they perceive to be of value).
• LEAN in the CLASSROOM
The main idea behind lean principles in the classroom, of course, is to eliminate waste, improve the quality and relevance of the course materials, and deliver greater value as perceived by students. Students should frequently see lectures, activities, assignments, and even the incorporation of employability skills (aka core abilities) as less ambiguous, and gain a specific understanding of why these things apply to them. The more students can see that events in the classroom have practical application, the less they feel their time is being wasted.
These ideas coincide well with John Dewey’s (1963) seminal writings on collateral learning. He wrote:
Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only that particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning…may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned (p. 48).
Have you had good luck showing students the value in your collateral classroom activities? Please share any best practices that have worked for you.
Dewey, J. (1963). Experience and education. London: Collier.