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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'll give this question a try because I'm a student that falls into that category.
    I was accepted into a university and I don't care for it. It's not that I hate learning, in fact I love learning, but it seems like the university only gets in the way of what I desire to become. Last semester I paid over $3,000 for 2 classes that didn't help me at all. I'm sure it will help me get a degree. Aside from that, this is not serving a purpose. The material being presented in both classes was either stuff I already knew or viewed by most of the class as completely useless. The whole idea that students my age go to college in the first place is only based on becoming a success and fear of failing in life. Evidently students will gladly pay too high of a price for that. The process of learning and gaining knowledge is excluded from the sales pitch.

    When you walk around the campus all you see is signs and posters that say things along the lines of "This is where success lives." To me it's like pro-college propaganda. Students now are more interested in being a successful and make an above average paycheck rather than gaining quality knowledge for what they enjoy doing. I applied for classes assuming that I would gain the knowledge to help my future. Right now I'm cursing and kicking myself for not choosing my options wisely. I could have used that $3,000 for a trip to Japan. I would have learned a lot more doing that than sitting in a classroom learning little to nothing.

    The only reason I liked going to the university is because I met a computer science professor that I enjoy talking with between classes. We talk for hours about theories and philosophies. I actually learned more from him than my actual classes. He teaches students on a personal level. My professors only taught for the masses and we were in and out of there like a fast food burger joint. I think that students need to stop accepting the effortless scantron tests and have personal talks with their instructors.
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      Mar 12 2013: Do you have a reasonable advisor who can help you make course selections that make more sense for someone with your background and interests?

      Could you take some courses at UCLA and transfer the credits, or could you even apply for transfer to UCLA?

      Different colleges vary greatly in the intellectual vitality of the faculty and student body.
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        Mar 12 2013: I have talked with an adviser. They can only take your interests and show you the options and paths you have to take to achieve a degree based off what the school offers. I don't think they are the reason for the school having a slightly faulty presentation for the curriculum. Don't get me wrong they are greatly helpful but what if the student doesn't have the motivation to learn?

        My major is media based so that's why I was recommended to go to CSUN (yes, I know, that's where all the UCLA rejects go). I do have experience in the career I want to go in already. So taking a class about something I work with was pretty silly, but then again I really am in it for the degree. It was interesting to already know what material was useful, what wasn't, and seeing the class react (or not react).

        The motivation to learn seems to be a question that affects all schools now and not just one in particular. You are right that colleges do vary greatly. I would really enjoy visiting UCLA on my free time.
    • Mar 12 2013: First and foremost, I thank you for your honesty Cody! although you may not realize it, you are not the type of student i am encountering. I 100% understand (and experience first hand in both undergrad and my masters work) what you are talking about as far as classes that feel pointless. most of these in my experience were my undergrad core classes where the teachers just seemed to be using the packet of what had been done last year to teach this year. what you are talking about in regards to connecting to your professor is exactly what i wish more student sought out. the whole topic of money paid for classes taken is big enough for its own question (and has likely been asked before), but what you are talking about is what i want to instill in more of the students I interact with. I am lucky enough to get to work with a lot of students in my department that get it, but it is the new students I want to help more. True, it could be that they will get there eventually, but I am trying to find more ways to help them see the merits of it (learning, regardless of whether it is in the classroom or from personal connection with faculty/staff) before they leave and look back on their college experience as a complete waste.
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        Mar 12 2013: I see what you are asking now. It might be a problem among students as well.
        The most memorable classes I took are the ones where the professor took the time to get to know the students. Where the instructor was just as curious about the students' understanding as much as the student was curious about the class or why they should even be sitting there. I talk and make friends with a lot of people that are much older than I am. I've been told that the best way to learn and teach is to be on equal grounds with each other. I find that to be true.

        Another reason I talk with elders is because a lot of students my age tend to not be as sociable outside of technology. It's challenging as a student to also connect and discuss ideas with other students. I'm probably guilty of this too by not speaking up when opportunities present themselves. I don't know what it is about students now (technology/lack of social skills/not caring) but you are asking a good question.

        Once I had an instructor who went around the class asking each student what they were interested in. The question was "If I were to give you a laptop showing Google. What would you look up to learn more about?" I thought it was a good way to strike a conversation with a student's interests and being able to relate it to the discussions. Unfortunately, some people of the class were even clueless about the topics that they were interested in.

        Then I had another instructor who gave us a list of personal questions to fill out at the beginning of the semester and it wasn't used or mentioned again. It was pointless.

        If I were a teacher, I would probably start by slipping in a few life tips in every now and then relating to the subject. Things that college students would enjoy hearing people say and find useful. Maybe brush over a little more networking tips so they can have a chance to ask and speak up rather than stay silent.

        I hope this is helping your question in some way. I'm curious about this topic as well.
        • Mar 12 2013: This is helping tremendously...thanks for sharing Cody :)

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