An excellent video by Michael Wesch at 200 students and Kansas State University takes a look at how students view education today.
This reminds me of the concept of a “teachable moment.” The concept here is that you can really only teach someone something when you’re hitting them with something that’s within their zone of understanding and zone of interest. Frankly, much of the time spent by anyone in a classroom will fall outside of one of both of those two zones.
How often do (or did) you find yourself zoning out during a lecture when the topics moved to something too rudimentary to keep your attention? Or, what happened when things moved a bit too fast for you to keep up? In either case, you probably found yourself in a situation where you were no longer learning.
Motivated students will make the most of their time by supplementing what’s going on in the classroom with additional materials from their textbooks or online. Or, in cases where students are stuck with professors who are poor at presenting material, they’ll supplement the professor with relevant information from the web or their readings.
The thing that scared me the most in this video was watching 200 kids sit in a classroom without power outlets. That may be find for a one-hour lecture, but what happens when that’s followed by another hour and another hour after that?
Somewhat related: Stephen Dubner has an interesting interview with an economics professor on the Freakonomics blog who’s created an interesting career out of teaching online introductory economics courses for colleges across the country. From what Prof. Gladfelter explains, it sounds like his web based students may be more motivated than students who’ve dragged themselves away from their computers to stare at a chalkboard.