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Attitudes Toward Learning:

These ideals affect my expectations concerning their attitudes toward learning. All educators have to deal with some students who seem to view education as a form of entertainment (which is not really a surprise since our society is obsessed with it). They seem to think that learning is something that happens to them without their intervention, and that it should be fun and exciting. Somehow they fail to recognize their own role in making it interesting. I am frustrated by comments such as "the class was boring" or "we should do more fun things like group activities," and I worry when these are the measures that our students use to evaluate the success of our classes. Certainly learning can be fun, but it is also hard work, not entertainment, and the fun comes from overcoming challenges, or seeing things in a new way, or doing something you didn't think you could do. All of these take active participation that seems to be missing from the comments above. As a teacher, my job is to provide the students with the information, the example, and the guidance that they need to build understanding on their own. Ideally, they will recognize how this is done and will be able to carry it on later in their lives after they have left college. The idea that it is my primary duty to make it fun (and worse yet, that they have paid for me to do so, and so are somehow entitled to that) is a serious misunderstanding. After all, students who gain the ability to master difficult and new problems will have found something much more satisfying than mere entertainment.

Unfortunately, some of the things we do tend to reinforce this more negative and passive attitude. I have gone to a number of meetings of the Committee on Teaching and to Learning and Teaching with Technology lectures, and far too often I hear statements like "I start out my class with a video to grab their attention, and then do a group activity half-way through the class to keep them interested" or "I use bright colors on my slides, and I include a picture on each one." Aside from the fact that these do not address pedagogical issues such as learning or retention, even as a means of attracting attention they are short-term solutions. What happens when the students get used to seeing bright colors and pictures? What will we do then? Rather than giving our students a means of separating valuable information from the surrounding noise, we have dulled their minds to the data that actually is there and given them false expectations that the only interesting material is that which is couched in flashing letters, patterned backgrounds and moving images. We have focused their attention on the distractions rather than the information, and we do them a real disservice in this.

We should bear in mind the studies that have been done concerning the effects of such things as colors and motion on perception and learning. For example, evidence suggests that a sans serif font is more appropriate for on-screen viewing than a Roman one: these are more readable, cause less eye-strain, and provide for better long-term comprehension. It was with dismay, then, that I watched a speaker at a teaching and technology lecture (using a classroom where I taught) change the san serif font that I had carefully selected in Netscape to a small roman font. It seems to me that as we develop electronic materials, and especially when we are lecturing about them, we should make use of the knowledge that such studies provide.

[HOME] Davide P. Cervone's web pages
Created: 08 Sep 2001
Last modified: 07 Jan 2002 06:56:17
Comments to: dpvc@union.edu
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