Michael Wesch (2008) sheds light on the reality of students and classes in the post-secondary setting in “A Vision of Students Today”. After having selected a portion of the students he taught, Wesch (2008) asked them to share their thoughts on their education. Wesch (2008) describes the results he received from his students as a “disheartening portrayal of disengagement” in learning (para. 1). Wesch (2008) explains that a lot of his students claimed to hate school, but all said they loved learning (para. 12). Why is there a disconnect between a place where learning is supposed to be the epitome of its existence and the actual process of learning? The students’ reflections on their education were compiled into a video that has been seen on YouTube by millions also entitled “A Vision of Students Today”.
Our world is changing due to rapid technological advancements, therefore, the way we receive, and process information has also changed. However, the way university professors transmit their knowledge, and the way in which students are expected to acquire it has not changed. Wesch (2008) states that the university classroom “is nothing less than a state of the art information dump, a physical manifestation of the all too pervasive yet narrow and naïve assumption that to learn is simply to acquire information” (para. 5). However, we know that to learn is not to solely acquire information. To learn is to understand the information we are given, question it, reflect upon it, and discuss it. Yet, Wesch (2008) marveled at his achievement “to bring hundreds of otherwise expressive, exuberant, and often rebellious youths into a single room and have them sit quietly in straight rows while they listen to the authority with the microphone” (para. 8). He explains that “it has taken years of acclimatizing our youth to stale artificial environments, piles of propaganda convincing them that what goes on inside these environments is of immense importance” (para. 8). It is simply the way students have been taught for centuries in a post-secondary setting. If we conclude that sitting in an auditorium with the professor lecturing at the front is artificial, then one might ask themselves what would the realistic setting resemble?
The information Wesch (2008) received from his teaching assistants may help in answering the latter question. Wesch’s (2008) teaching assistants sat dispersed among his class of four-hundred students, “apparently, several students standing in the back cranked up their iPods as [he] started to lecture and never turned them off, sometimes even breaking out into dance. [His] lecture could barely be heard nearby as the sound-absorbing panels and state of the art speakers were apparently no match for those blaring iPods. Scanning the room [the] assistants also saw students cruising Facebook, instant messaging, and texting their friends. The students were undoubtedly engaged, just not with [their professor]” (para. 9). It is not surprising that in a setting which enables a detachment from the professor, students find ways to keep themselves entertained and busy. Nor is this an uncommon occurrence, as I have witnessed the same scenario when attending classes for my undergraduate degree. I would argue that a student occupying themselves with their technology while sitting in a classroom where the professor is lecturing is actually the norm. Perhaps creating a realistic learning environment for students means incorporating the technology they so adamantly use already during lectures.
Learning is not a passive activity, however, that is how it is still presented and treated in school, especially in post-secondary institutions. Marton and Tsui (2004) say that “it is highly unlikely that there is any one particular way of arranging for learning that is conducive to all kinds of learning” (p. 3). They go on to say that “in order to find effective ways of arranging for learning, researchers need to first address what it is that should be learned in each case, and find the different conditions that are conducive to different kinds of learning” (Marton & Tsui, 2004, p. 3). One way I would argue that connects with students and is conducive to different kinds of learning is the incorporation of technology. “We don’t have to tear the walls down…we can welcome laptops, cell phones, and iPods into our classrooms, not as distractions, but as powerful learning technologies. We can use them in ways that empower and engage students in real world problems and activities, leveraging the enormous potentials of the digital media environment that now surrounds us” (para. 19-20). I don’t believe lectures have to be taken out of universities all together, however, rethinking the way a professor engages with their students when they are in class, as well as outside of class must be considered. If students respond best to technology, create virtual classroom communities. Allow students to complete in class assignments online though the community. Create discussion forums that allow students to take discussions that happened inside the classroom, out into their real world. We must merge technology with what was once the normal way of teaching in order to create a liaison between professors and students today. Instead of fighting the change, we must embrace it and use it to our advantage, effectively creating the most optimal learning environment for students.
Marton, F. & Tsui, A. B. M. (2004). Classroom discourse and the space of learning. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Wesch, M. (2008). A vision of students today. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008/10/a-vision-of-students-today-what-teachers-must-do/