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Friday, May 12, 2017

“Why Do I Need to Know This?” | Faculty Focus - Teaching and Learning

Photo: Cristin Barrett
"Do students ever ask you that question? As an assistant professor of mathematics at a community college, I regularly get the question." writes Cristin Barrett, assistant professor of mathematics at Virginia Western Community College.

Photo: Faculty Focus

Most of my students are not mathematics majors, but are taking the class to fulfill a math requirement. I wonder if you find the question as frustrating as I do.

Recently I turned the question back on the students. I asked them why they were taking the class. You can imagine the responses: it’s required for their major; to get a good grade and raise their GPA; and so they wouldn’t fail the next course in the sequence. It’s no wonder students are disengaged and not very motivated. I started asking myself how I could motivate them to actually learn, grow, expand their brains, and develop the important skills we are trying to teach them.

At first, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would think they didn’t need to learn some math, or any of the essential content that we teach in college. The skills that students learn in our courses, such as organization, critical thinking, problem solving, and time management are essential. They’re skills that students will use every day no matter what professional career path they choose. And then it dawned on me—in my courses students think they’re just learning how to solve a set of homework problems. That’s really sad, but I’m glad I figured it out because I now can start trying to change their perceptions.

I’m working to be more intentional in my classroom about acknowledging the students’ disconnect between what I’m really teaching and what they think they’re learning. I’m committed to showing them that what they’re learning will help them reach their professional goals. Here’s a list of things I’ve been trying.

Helping students understand that courses are required for good reasons.  
We all present our course objectives on the first day; a list of discipline-specific concepts that students should understand or skills that they should be able to do at the end of the course. These are very important, but they are most likely not what is going to motivate the students to be engaged or succeed in these required, general education courses. There needs to be a separate list that identifies those “hidden” skills that students acquire in the process of learning the content. And not only do students need to hear what those objectives are, they need to know why they’re important.

Source: Faculty Focus

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