All classes should be about something more than just doing well on the exam. Sure, it sounds simplistic put on paper, but I can assure you that, despite its apparent obviousness, it is a fact frequently overlooked. It is very likely that you have had the experience of sitting in a large introductory class in which all anybody cared about was getting the notes to eventually get a good grade.
And the thing is that I finally grew tired of using the excuse of “oh, it’s a requirement” to justify attending a class that neither my classmates nor I seemed to value. It just gets depressing, really — sitting in a 200 person lecture and seeing people shopping for dresses and browsing Facebook.
Even if I’d had similar experiences before, it hit an all time low this semester. In an attempt to fulfill my Living World Sector requirement, I signed up for a class capped at 300 and subdivided into recitations, the component of big lectures aimed at providing students with an opportunity to learn in a smaller setting despite the humongous class size. Unsurprising discovery — the level of enthusiasm in the recitation wasn’t any better.
What made this deficiency so notorious was that the material was really not hard. This is an introductory class, the readings are concise and there is nothing to understand but only facts to learn. Even so, the hour-long recitations were filled with long, awkward silences, with the teaching assistant posing a straightforward question only to receive 20 blank stares. It really got ridiculous when, during one of the sessions, the only person that raised his hand did so to say, “Ahm, I think it’s time to go”.
It is not that the material is uninteresting or that the teachers are incompetent. It is simply that this particular system, the one that works under the premise that you don’t have to go to lecture as long as you can ace the test, predisposes us to failure. Not grade failure, of course — we’ll get A’s — but failure to get anything truly meaningful out of our experience. It sponsors a superficial understanding of learning that ends the minute the final exam is submitted.
Perhaps to explain my aversion to it better, I should bring up a class on the other end of the spectrum — “Writing for Children.” This is a class in which, despite weekly assignments, no grades are given until the end. The comments that our professor gives and the feedback from our classmates become the single most important measure of our success. It is process-oriented and not goal-oriented. It drives you to care about the work that you produce and about what your progress looks like from week to week.
When our professor announced last week that we had no further writing exercises, there was a moment of silence brought forth by legitimate sadness. It becomes less important what the final grade is when the semester has already been so rewarding.
Maybe it is unrealistic of me to expect that all classes should be somehow meaningful to their students, and maybe it is unfair of me to compare a small seminar to a lecture. After all, they fulfill different needs and make up different components of the undergraduate experience. But I am unable to continue to turn a blind eye to the blatant disregard for the value of the learning process that so often characterizes requirement-fulfilling lectures.
Sara Brenes-Akerman is a College junior from San Jose, Costa Rica. Her email address is brenesakerman@theDP.com. A Likely Story appears every Wednesday.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.