I thought of a question the other day, why don’t students have their own syllabus? Not necessarily a syllabus in terms of deadlines, but a student’s goals for the semester. Perhaps evaluating at the beginning of the semester what they expect to learn and other academic goals (ideas about what other goals?). This would make students actually take a look at the syllabus and encourage professors to explicate their own personal goals for the course outside the basic clichéd lines students see on every professor’s syllabus. This has the possibility of taking students from passive learners who attempt to fit into a mold of a class to active learners who grab a hold of the learning inside the classroom. And if Jeff McClurken’s Digital History class is any indication, students will often set the bar higher for themselves than a professor would expect.
I think this question stems from my frustration over finding relevancy in the classroom. As Jerome Bruner states in his book The Process of Education:
“The first object of any act of learning, over and beyond the pleasure it may give, is that it should serve us in the future. Learning should not only take us somewhere; it should allow us later to go further more easily.”
One of the most common complaints I hear from students (and myself) is the lack of relevancy of what is learned in the classroom. This does not necessarily mean what is being taught is not relevant, but more likely students are unable to see it. This attitude is especially prevalent in gen-ed classes where students are often in courses that they have little interest in. Now I’m not asking professors to make their class pop-culture relevant, although props to you if you can throw in a Simpsons reference, there is pretty much relevancy in everything if you know what you are looking for. Let me throw another Bruner quote at you:
“Grasping the structure of a subject is understanding it in a way that permits many other things to be related to it meaningfully. To learn structure, in short, is to learn how things are related.”
Often I find myself losing sight of this structure or I am unsure of what it even is, so the class becomes “simply the mastery of facts and techniques”. At this stage of the game obviously I have come to learn structure of several disciplines, but I am honestly not sure I could tell you what exactly those structures are. I still need the help from professors, the experts in the classroom, to guide me. All too often people assume that students, both good and bad, have mastery or understanding of the basic underlying structure of a subject.
I think students (and maybe even professors) are afraid to admit this late in the game that they are unsure of the answers to some of these seemingly basic questions. Maybe if we just put embarrassment and pride aside we could talk about these glaring issues with honesty and maybe even reach some answers. And almost as equally important as finding the answers is iterating it again, and again, and again, and again.