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December 10, 2008

"We love learning. We hate school."

Excerpts from the text to go with the video, A vision of students today by Mark Hanson:

One of the most thoughtful and engaged students I have ever met recently confronted a professor about the nuances of some questions on a multiple choice exam. The professor politely explained to the student that he was “overthinking” the questions. What kind of environment is this in which “overthinking” is a problem?

How did institutions designed for learning become so widely hated by people who love learning?

Texting, web-surfing, and iPods are just new versions of passing notes in class, reading novels under the desk, and surreptitiously listening to Walkmans. They are not the problem. They are just the new forms in which we see it. Fortunately, they allow us to see the problem in a new way, and more clearly than ever, if we are willing to pay attention to what they are really saying.

While most of our classrooms were built under the assumption that information is scarce and hard to find, nearly the entire body of human knowledge now flows through and around these rooms in one form or another, ready to be accessed by laptops, cellphones, and iPods. In short, they tell us that our walls no longer mark the boundaries of our classrooms.

And that’s what has been wrong all along. Some time ago we started taking our walls too seriously – not just the walls of our classrooms, but also the metaphorical walls that we have constructed around our “subjects,” “disciplines,” and “courses."

I wish I couldn't relate to this, but I can. When school doesn't command my full attention, my mind wanders - sometimes so far that I miss information from my teachers that I should have gotten. As I wrote here, "I have this theory that if my brain isn't busy enough, it will start searching for something to do." Maybe it's a sign of the times, maybe it's just me. And yes, many students don't concentrate because they can't be bothered. And many students don't work unless the teacher constantly controls them and watches them, and this controlling involves the lazy students actually showing up for class. But these students don't belong in college at all.

I know that I can learn so much more with an Internet connection, a library card and permission to cut class than I can if I go to school every day. If teachers have to force their students to show up to lectures, isn't that a sign that what's happening in the classroom is less than interesting? It's time for a change.

Posted by Julie at December 10, 2008 4:51 PM

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This speaks volumes to me. I stopped buying textbooks after freshman year when I was twice screwed over buy never using hundreds of dollars worth of books. "You need reference material", was the argument I always heard. Of course the standard reply is still "I have Google, and it's free."

You'll only learn if you want to, and if you want to badly enough you'll find a way to do it mostly on your own. I think professors should be guides and mentors. Why their years of knowledge and experience is often reduced to being a mere data dispenser I will never understand.

Posted by: Peter at December 11, 2008 12:34 PM