Rumor has it that in the late afternoon, after the students have all retreated to upper campus, you might catch a glimpse of a lone professor strolling under the leafy canopy, daydreaming of students who ponder their learning just for the fun of it. Although this might be an ever-so-slight exaggeration (it’s not THAT leafy), this vision of liberal arts nirvana isn’t just a fool’s paradise. When testing the effect of the first-year survey item, “I find myself thinking about what I’m learning in my classes even when I’m not in class or studying,” we regularly find that students who strongly agree with this statement also earn better grades (no matter their incoming ACT scores), say that they would definitely choose to come to Augustana again, and strongly agree that they can think of specific experiences that helped them clarify their life or career goals.
It appears that students who think about their learning when they don’t have to aren’t just a professor’s dream come true; this behavior is one indicator of a very successful student. Of course, I can already hear you blurting out the obvious, only semi-rhetorical, albeit entirely reasonable, next question.
“But we don’t have any control over that trait, do we?”
I can understand why you might ask that question, especially in that way. Sometimes it feels like all we do is implore students to embrace learning and truly engage the stuff we are trying to teach them. And sadly, all too often it can feel like those passionate pleas just bounce off the classroom’s back wall, reminding us of our inadequacies as the slap-back echo of our own voice hits us in the face.
But if there were some things that you could do, whether you are working with students in the classroom or outside the classroom, that might actually turn students into more intellectually curious, contemplative thinkers, would you do it? Sign me up!
We’ve just finished analyzing last year’s first-year student data and it looks like two items that we’ve recently introduced to the survey might point us toward some ways that could increase the degree to which students think about what they learn in class when it isn’t required. The first item that we found to be predictive of students’ thinking about their learning when they don’t have to asks students the degree to which they agree or disagree with this statement:
“My instructors recommended specific experiences outside of class (such as a lecture, forum, public meeting, demonstration, or other event) on campus or in the community that would complement or enhance my learning in class.”
Even after accounting for students’ sex, race, incoming ACT score, and socioeconomic status, as students reported these kinds of recommendations coming from their instructors more frequently, they also reported that they found themselves thinking about the things they learned in class even when they weren’t in class or studying.
In addition, we found a similar relationship between students’ thinking about learning and the degree to which they agreed with this statement:
“Symposium Day activities influenced the way that I now think about real world issues.”
It strikes me that these two items fit together perfectly. On Tuesday (that would be tomorrow!), We hold our first Symposium Day of the year. In addition to four fantastic featured speakers, a variety of faculty, staff, and students will present a variety of thought-provoking presentations that tackle one or more aspects of the deliberately broad theme for the day, “Crossroads.” Some crossroads are physical, some are ideological, and some are about values and standing up for a set of principles even when it might not be the most popular thing to do. No matter the angle you take, everyone one of us faces these sorts of choices every day. If we’re paying attention, these moments can bring powerful meaning into our lives.
So if you want your students to be more likely to think about what they are learning when they don’t have to, take advantage of the upcoming Symposium Day and encourage them to soak up the atmosphere and the opportunity to choose what they want to learn. Maybe find a few sessions that sound particularly intriguing or controversial and suggest that your students practice hearing out an idea that they might not initially agree with.
Who knows? By the end of tomorrow that rumored incident of meandering thinkers might include a healthy dose of students, too.
Make it a good day,