What Is A Student’s Job?

I ask this question, “What is a student’s job?” Besides the obvious answer of “to be a student!”, I am curious to see what others think.

It seems such a fundamental question, but one that is hard to answer, or perhaps has varying answers.

There are some things that came to mind when pondering this question. What is college preparing student’s for? Is it to be academics? Skilled people for the work force? Contributing members of society?

For the most part it feels like college is training us to be academics, but I don’t think the college is really aiming for that, or should be aiming for that. Of course some people will go on to be educators and work in a highly specialized area of their major, but most likely the vast majority won’t. I will also say that besides content there are goals and themes that carry through college, being able to critical think, speak well, write well, etc. But at times college can really seem like k-12 redux where the content is just more in depth and the papers about the content are longer.

So is a students job to study a lot and pass tests? Or is it be creative and do something productive for society?

Don’t get me wrong though, students who don’t study all day long (har-har) are still being productive and creative. You know where it is happening though? Outside the classroom! Mostly in the form of clubs. At Mary Washington we have an active chapter of Students Helping Honduras that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, a Young Womens Leadership Program that mentors middle school girls, and various other groups that get things done. And where is there for the most part a lack of interesting ideas and productivity going on? Inside the classroom! I see a disconnect here.

Of course everyone needs some base knowledge to actually be able to play in the “sandbox” and I am not saying every class on campus is useless. For example there is an Economics class that deals with philanthropic ventures and actually gives away money to a deserving organization. The students in the class obviously need some background in what the class entails and an instructor to help them too. I am also not saying that students don’t put hard work into their papers and other class projects, but for the majority of students, only the professor and the class will see their hard work. And what they accomplished might have little value for the future.

Student’s go to class after class, filling their heads with content, but seldom dealing with real world situations. There is so much untapped talent and creativity waiting to be unleashed on campus. Say for instance Admissions wanted to have a promotional video for Mary Washington, how easy would it be to have some students on campus do it? Maybe give them some credit for it or even money towards tuition! It would probably be cheaper than having a professional do it and it would be better because a student who understands the school would be working on it. It also feels more personal when you know a student worked on it and I wouldn’t be surprised if prospective students liked it more than what a professional could come up with.
Right now in my Digital History Seminar we are building projects that can be useful to people outside or class and even institution. It is exciting to think that what we are doing now could last well into the future. In these project we have encountered problems we couldn’t have foreseen and it has made us think and evaluate. It has been a learning experience more than a paper on digital history ever could be.

There are endless possibilities if people just took the time to think and dare to be innovative. Mike Caulfield blogged a few months ago about what would happen if students stopped working in silos and started working on real world situations, it has inspired me ever since I read it. Mike says, “In a networked information economy, failure is cheap. Production is cheap. And if you produce something worthwhile, distribution is free.

So again I ask, what is a student’s job?

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3 Responses to “What Is A Student’s Job?”


  1. 1 Jenny March 5, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    I have to admit that most of the really important things I learned in college were learned outside of the classroom. (I know my college professor husband always loves it when I say that.) There are a few classes that stand out, but mostly they have faded from memory at this point, a mere twelve years later.

    The best classes, even if I don’t remember them vividly, were the ones that pushed my thinking and challenged me. One in the English department did so while keeping me completely engaged in a topic that really didn’t interest me at all. I’m not sure how she managed to do it.

    I don’t think every class can manage to have real life implications. Some classes have to scaffold us as learners to get to those other opportunities. But I do think that every class can challenge us, engage us, and push us as learners.

    I haven’t addressed a student’s job here. Blame that on the fact that I’m a teacher and I view everything through that lens.

  2. 2 Joseph March 5, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Sex. Drugs. Rocks and/or rolls.

    The purpose-driven education. Yeah. (blows smoke puffs)


  1. 1 Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching » Blog Archive » What is a student’s job? Trackback on March 5, 2008 at 7:26 am

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