Wednesday, October 14, 2009
How Much Should I Worry about the Student Sleeping in the Back?
Well, the semester (and thus library instruction) is again in full swing. This means I am as likely to be found in front of a class as at the reference desk right now.
I notice a few things have changed since I last thought about how to teach effectively:
(1) I no longer assume students know what I'm talking about. I don't assume they know what a catalog is & what it's doing when they click 'search', I don't assume they know what books (particularly academic titles) are all about, I don't assume they know what a journal is, or know the meaning of the word 'periodical'. (In fact, strong majorities in BIO1 classes told me with a show of hands that they did not know what a journal was.) I try to define my terms as much as possible while still getting to the point of the lesson, but this leads to (2) me talking for a lot longer -- it's suddenly easy to go for 45 minutes without interruption. I wonder if this is good for the students, and in fact I have noticed a few of them falling asleep. And so I go back to being conflicted over (3) how I can make the material interesting to them. Moreover, how much energy should I spend worrying about this?
Begin rant / These are adult college students, and they have the responsibility to sit up and pay attention, and if they choose not to do this, how is it my fault if they decide to go to sleep? School -- even college -- is by its very nature boring for some students, and for every one student who is snoozing, there are 15 who are wide awake and attentive. Why should I grease the squeaky wheels by dumbing down my lesson with fireworks displays? I have no idea why they are sleeping -- maybe they are working three jobs, maybe the room is too hot, maybe they were kept up all night by screaming children, or maybe they really do not want to be in college. I usually only see them once, in a single class, which is not enough time to try and understand what is going on with them & what learning style will best work for them. / End rant
In an ideal world, of course, we would all be able to create learning experiences like this one:
I assume this video was meant to show a novel approach to changing people's behavior (while promoting fitness or decreasing energy consumption?). But really, how I can I make using library databases -- even taking into consideration all my enthusiasm and confidence that they are magical -- into an experience similar to this? Modify them into a first-person shooter game? I'm going to need some serious programming skills for that one.
Then again, if you asked the people who participated in the video above, I wonder what they would say they learned? Did they learn that using the stairs makes them fit and healthy? Did they begin to understand how much more energy the escalator uses than the stairs? No, they learned that they could play music on this set of stairs. Although perhaps the use of that staircase increased, those same people might well have kept using the escalator everywhere else -- i.e. where the steps had not been turned into musical keys.
The problem is, work is not always fun. Work is sometimes work. And isn't being able to successfully do something that is not particularly fun a valuable skill? Or, should we be encouraging the ability to constantly turn work into something fun?