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What Can We Learn From Our Professors?

We aren’t using our textbooks properly. Instead of reading, underlining, and memorizing them, we should rip them, tear out each page, until all that is left is a pile of shredded papers and an empty shell of a book cover. We are paying for college to learn from top-notch professors, not from a textbook we have to pay more money for. I shouldn’t need a textbook if I have a professor.

To gain the most from my professors, I try to be a good student. I come to class on time, I participate in class, and I try to read the textbook chapters before the lecture. But despite my best efforts to engage with my education, I find that more and more I am bored and disappointed with my classes. If I can learn much of the information taught in class on my own from textbooks, why should I need or want to listen to a lecture? Class often seems to be a waste of my time.

Some of my professors are aware of this. Instead of teaching just what is in the textbooks, they will supplement the information with outside sources, showing videos and clarifying complicated material. (I am speaking from my own experiences as a psychology major, but I am sure this can apply to most lecture-style classes.) While these supplements make attending class somewhat worthwhile, I do not think it is enough. Instead of having lecture, the professor can email the class videos to watch on our own computers, write up some notes on the supplementary material, and respond to questions on the material via email (or even during office-hours or on the phone). In fact, there might not be a need for a specific professor and most learning could occur through online classes without losing much, educationally. While psychologists have shown that learning material through different mediums (such as listening to a lecture in addition to reading a textbook) improves memory and understanding, I can get that variation on my own through reading texts and watching videos. I do not need professors or a real life classroom for learning information.

I did not come to college to be spoon-fed information. I came to college to learn how to think; how to analyze information and come to logical conclusions, to critically assess and engage with the world. These goals may be lofty and abstract, but they can be practically applied in the classroom. Every college course should expect students to prepare all the assigned readings before coming to class. Professors can spend some time reviewing key concepts and clearing up any confusion, but a majority of the time should be spent developing critical thinking within that discipline. For example, science classroom discussions can revolve around breaking apart scientific articles and assessing whether the researcher’s conclusions reflect the data. College graduates should know how to read academic journal articles. College should train us to question, critique, and be creative. It is those skills that will help us lead fulfilling lives. Just knowing facts is not enough.

This model is not perfect. It does not fit well with our current education system, since graduate schools and standardized tests require comprehensive knowledge of subjects. Colleges can’t afford to trust their students to learn all of the information on their own. Additionally, even if we can change the system, the model might not appeal to everyone. Some people simply are not interested in spending time thinking and engaging in classroom discussions. 

I do not profess to know what an ideal college class should look like. What I do know is that I feel like I am not gaining as much as I could be from my professors. How do you feel?