This is a question that is all too common on today’s college campuses. For parents, this could be quite a startling idea (think: “I pay how much money for you to NOT go to class!?!”). But this is the reality. College students are finding, more and more, that going to class just is not a good use of their time. And who can blame them. Professors in many courses continue to pontificate from their podiums in lecture halls of hundreds of students. And even in the case of a small class, PowerPoint presentations are read, almost verbatim, for 50, 70, or 90 minutes. Students are more likely to attend “section” (a time when a small group of students meets with a Teaching Assistant or TA) or a lab than the actual class.
Many students think they can get by with just reading the textbook or downloading a copy of the slides after class. Some see the value in actually attending class, so they may rotate who goes which days (“I take Monday, you take Wednesday”), take notes, and swap over the weekend.
But in our fast-paced, technologically-advanced society, it is unrealistic to expect students to sit idly and passively absorb information from the man or woman up front. Students crave active learning, technology and will settle for anything that involves a little discussion!
The Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out that students prefer to not attend class and that professors are trying to contend with this new mentality (although not very new…). Some professors have radically changed their courses to involve more technology, more discussions, and smaller group projects. Some have gone so far as to have an “on-call” librarian on Twitter so that students can have immediate information and feedback to share with others (for amount parents pay, a concierge service with a library science degree doesn’t seem like too much to ask for).
And now the unthinkable. If students don’t want to go to class, what’s the point of them even being in college? This is a big question recently, more specifically, what is the value of a college degree? Well, some would argue that “life skills” are more important than the degree (or at least more important than what you must learn to earn a degree). One entrepreneur (read “college dropout”) has taken this idea to the extreme by creating UnCollege. UnCollege provides students with the opportunity to work with mentors, create their own real-world, hands-on assignments, and then grade them. This option will not allow you to earn a traditional degree, it may give the connections and experience to build a career (or perhaps your first career).
Perhaps this reminds you of the old “vocational school” debate. If students are not interested in attending class and want hands-on experience, are we just creating the internet version of trade and professional schools? The next decade will certainly be exciting for education, but you can bet that Harvard and Yale won’t be going away anytime soon.