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Eugene Frier

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How can we best engage college students in the idea of learning instead of just getting a degree?

I work at a 4 year, public university and I see a great deal of students who come to school to get their degree (which they equate to money/success) and do not care about learning. What are your thoughts on the best way to engage them in the actual process of learning. I have my thoughts, but would love to hear my fellow TEDsters thoughts.

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    Mar 12 2013: I think that certainly once kids are in secondary school, the message they should be hearing is that they will be able to construct for themselves the most interesting possible future if they engage in learning and understanding important ideas and how to apply them. It is not what you have that will be pivotal but what you understand and are able to do and your ability and disposition to keep learning effectively on your own so that you can understand new ideas and tackle new problems..

    Instruction should then focus on the big and most important ideas, with students having options within the curriculum to explore ideas and the projects of their own interest.

    Decades ago, people called this making education 'relevant." Best practice is connecting learning to things that interest students and that they find compelling.

    On a more mundane level, which may apply to your college or not, depending on where you teach, the kids should not be burned out. Too much mandatory stuff leaves too little time for "problem finding." The disposition and habit of finding problems to work on in a self-directed way is a vital thing to cultivate, as education is about creating the active lifelong learner.

    Obvious, as others have written, be interesting and compelling, treat students with respect, and engage personally with students rathering than seeming like you are a different species..
    I have taught secondary as well as undergraduates and graduate students and have found these strategies highly successful. Do try them!

    What do you teach?
    • Mar 12 2013: I am actually not an instructor, I work for the Department of Housing on my campus. I already feel that some of the stuff I get to do in my job gets to help students by providing that "out of class learning" that is pivotal to college/life success (at least in my opinion), but I still run up against some students who see class as their "job" that they just need to do to finish up. As I am not in control of their individual classroom experiences, I cannot alter that, but I try to out of the classroom. Trying to show them the beauty and fun of learning is a big goal of mine, but it gets difficult at times when they buy into it with me outside of class but then go back to their "job" and shut themselves off to it in the classroom.
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        Mar 12 2013: You can try many of the same strategies. You might ask about the coolest things they are learning about and ask intriguing questions about whatever they share. The same strategy works for parents who want to help their kids make the most of their educations.

        One of the real impediments to students' learning is people who just repeat the old trope that schools and learning are worthless. Just because some people haven't known how to make the most of their opportunities doesn't mean they can't! So much is about attitude, curiosity, and resourcefulness.

        You are doing a great thing!
        • Mar 12 2013: "One of the real impediments to students' learning is people who just repeat the old trope that schools and learning are worthless." That...I get that a lot. I honestly see it as a big part of my life's work to shift that perspective. I appreciate the insight and encouragement Fritzie!
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        Mar 12 2013: My heart is so much in this- my energy and research too, and it is gratifying to know that people like you who are not in the classroom are just as committed.

        While parents' attitudes about the value of schooling and the quality of parents' educations as well are key factors, according to research, in kids attitudes and attainment in education, other adults can surely make a difference.

        A separate little example of which I became aware through research when I taught secondary math was that so many kids form judgments about math and learning math based on the "baggage" their parents have with the respect to the subject. The same may well be true of attitudes toward schooling in general- that those carrying a lot of "baggage" in this area and who disseminate that 'baggage" reduce kids' potential to learn much more effectively from their own experiences.

        Thanks for all you do.
        • Mar 12 2013: i never thought about it that way. one of the things i teach my staff about is my favorite student development theory (by dr. baxter-magolda) that talks about self authorship. in case you are unfamiliar, in an nutshell, it talks about how people (especially those away from home for the first time) believe what they believe based on their surroundings and upbringing. being away from home is a powerful transitional phase that allows them to think on their own. i have framed that in my mind related to a lot of stuff (politics, religion, identity development, etc.), but never to views of school and learning. you have given me a lot to think about...i greatly appreciate it!

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