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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 17 2013: I've read a number of the posts here, and I'd like to give my two cents.

    As a student:
    My job is to get good grades, in order to get scholarships for the next year, in order to get money, in order to get a degree, in order to get a job, in order to get money. It starts at good grades.
    Everyone has their own opinion on grades. Some people consider them harmful to learning, others essential. In my experience, it depends wholly on the teacher. "Get a good grade" can translate to a lot of things. It could mean "demonstrate the material", or "repeat after me", or "participate in class", or "think on your own".
    Different base purposes lead to different results, but more so than that, different ways of executing those base purposes lead to positive or negative results. In short, it's not the format of the class, it's how the format is used.

    As a teacher:
    I need to make sure my students get a good balance of "what is needed to pass the test" and "what is needed to actually do something".
    I've been teaching martial arts for four years now. There is a significant divide between knowing the katas and using the martial art. Students need to know the kata to pass the test. Practical application is often implied, but rarely tested. Knowing the kata trains students in the proper technique, without which they would hurt themselves using the art. Using the art though, is why you learn the katas in the first place.
    I think the important lesson to take from this is that the majority of students will learn what you test them on, but not much farther.


    We then return to the original topic. The test format parallels the martial arts tests. Students want a degree (or their next belt). They will learn whatever is required of them to do so, but not any farther. To go farther requires a different mentality, or a different way of teaching. The teaching is part format, part execution. Set a goal that relates to further learning, then execute it in a way that encourages further learning.

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