Wednesday, June 02, 2010

On Not Being Defensive

It's very difficult.

I'm learning stuff, but it's not easy to do this sort of stuff. And it's sometimes frustrating.

So, for your discussion pleasure: how much responsibility do students have for their learning, and how much responsibility do faculty have for student learning?


  1. oh, I'll take the bait. Faculty have the responsibility to provide the material to learn, and the context in which students do it. But we can't *make* people learn, we can only make it possible for them to do so. (As in the old saying "You can lead a horse to water..."

  2. Ok, initially I was going to say almost exactly what Susan said, though I was going to say "tools" where she said "material." But you know, I'm not sure if I *entirely* believe that. I think that faculty DO hold some responsibility. I think faculty have the responsibility to *attempt* to engage their students and to demonstrate why the material of the course matters. I think that maybe the whole "you can lead a horse to water...." thing might let us faculty types off the hook to easily, and put too much blame on students when they aren't interested or engaged.... I dunno. I do still think that MOST of the responsibility for learning is on the student. I want my students to feel like their education is their own - that I don't own it or control it. On the other hand, if my students aren't learning as a group, that probably does have something to do with me, and it means I need to do something to fix it.

  3. It's a tricky answer, because students have a wide range of abilities.

    So, for a more experienced student, the student has more responsibility for their own learning. They should have a more developed set of learning skills.

    For a less experienced student, the professor has to do more work helping them learn how to learn.

    Also, some of the learning skills are discipline-specific and others are more general. So, some disciplines have a duty to teach a particular set of skills, where others have a duty to teach another (probably overlapping) set of skills.

  4. I think it's our faculty responsibility to help students learn--setting up clear goals for our courses, showing them how the assignments are supposed to help them connect with the course, show them why the assignments are in the course and how we have prepared them for it, and to offer opportunities for them to experiment and get feedback in some ways before serious graded assessments happen. But then it's their responsibility to do that work. It's a fine line--as Dr. Crazy says above, the student-responsibilty-is-supreme argument can slide into a lot of student-bashing and conversation about the Problems with Students These Days (which I know is not at all where you are--I'm thinking of discussions with my dept, for example, where these views will emerge). Teaching is about relationships (student-teacher, as well as student-discipline or community), and it takes work on both sides.

  5. Thanks for your comments, folks. I'm on a friend's computer for a few minutes, but I wanted to say that one of the most helpful things is to ask myself: imagine the student who's doing the work, but still having a problem. How do I help that student? Thinking about that student is helping me conceptualize teaching a bit better.

  6. If the student is doing all of the work but still having problems, it's the student's responsibility to talk to the professor for more guidance. Office hours, further explanation via email, extra readings that might clarify things, etc.

    If the professor were extra-proactive, s/he might initiate such a discussion, but the onus of comprehension still rests squarely on the student.

    I'd say that unless the vast majority of the class were doing the work and still not understanding the material that then the prof might reevaluate his/her actions and take a more engaged approach.

    Susan summed it up well. It's the job of professors to make the knowledge available. It is not their job to tell students (beyond planned evaluations) whether they are or aren't understanding the material. Students have to be able to make that call for themselves and act in their own interests.

  7. I think we have to do more than make knowledge available, though. I think we have to set up processes that will give students the chance to encounter that knowledge, and we have to assume that some students will have problems (I love the heuristic of thinking about someone doing the work and having a problem), and we have to assume that students don't learn everything all at once. Of course students do need to make their own calls about what they understand and don't, and what sort of extra help to ask for. I am finding it helpful these days to ask myself how the activities of the course are guiding students in learning material.

  8. I can't recommend enough Patrick Allitt's book I'm the Teacher, You're the Student. Glib title aside, it does a great job describing the relationship between faculty and students.

  9. I agree with the other Susan & Dr. C and didn't mean to be flip, as if we can just provide material while students learn. We have to show them it matters, model the skills they need, give clear instructions, etc. But we can't *make* students learn.

    THinking about this a lot, because I'll have 120 students in a lower division course, mostly new freshpeople, and I know part of what I'm teaching is HOW to learn.

  10. In my courses, I think that my responsibility is to try to engage the student as a whole person -- to try to inspire them to learn and develop. I give students a lot of room to make each project their own. I see myself as issuing the invitation and then prodding them toward ownership and engagement with material that is interesting to both of us. But when students don't pick up that invitation or just want to do the easiest thing so they can get the easiest A, I may try to get them to inquire into that, but at that point I think my responsibility ends.

    I also take seriously the idea that I have to teach them to be independent and pro-active. I don't run after them. I tell them I won't. If they're having problems, I expect them to come to me. I do allow time in class when they can ask me questions informally and individually, since some students are nervous about office hours or can't make it.