Opinion: Professors should use students' time wisely

Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Professors often seem to wonder, “Why do students not take my assignments (or readings or lectures) seriously?” The answer is that students have no evidence that professors care for the limited nature of their time any more than professors know if students care to actually spend the time learning the course material. 

As it stands, some professors assign work that is easily seen by the majority of their students as redundant and or too time-consuming to accomplish around other classwork. 

Texas A&M International University put out a document giving more information about course loads that includes a useful breakdown of the hours that students have. It says students should expect to do two to three hours of studying and work required for each credit hour of class per week. This is a relatively reasonable expectation. 

In order to allow students to have time to work, participate in student organizations and develop skills and passions outside the classroom, students and professors should look for ways to make schoolwork more efficient.

While there is some pressure on the student to get their work completed as efficiently as possible, the professors we admire the most are those that are willing to work with us to help us understand the course material without wasting effort. 

Some steps professors can take to increase efficiency is to recognize redundancy and extraneous information, allow access to course materials outside of the classroom and make sure their coursework is rewarding to students. 

Redundancy is the problem I have most with coursework that I decide not to do. If the lecture slides and the textbook say the same thing, then the best thing a professor can do for students is be flexible with them.

Some students will get more out of reading the book rather than attending lecture, and some will learn better attending lecture without having read the book. This is not bad thing, and it should be celebrated as a feature of our diversity, rather than punished by requiring that each student attempt to learn in a way they do not prefer. 

Many students choose not to read the assigned textbooks because long readings have such a high opportunity cost, according to Jose Vasquez at the 2016 EconED Conference. In requiring a student who is not proficient at reading and understanding textbooks to read the textbook in a way that seems redundant to the lecture, you’re requiring them to give up doing something else of value to them. Vasquez also makes the point that textbooks, because they are so in-depth, are more useful to students as a reference resource than as introductory material for a concept. 

Providing lecture slides on Blackboard and allowing students to learn in their own ways not only lets the student get the most efficient use of their time, but also promotes individual work ethic in the student, because they can take charge of how they want to learn the content. 

Many students decide not to read or not to attend class not because they are lazy or don’t care about the material, but because they feel they can better learn the material in the way that works best for them. 

Students have learned throughout high school that the way to succeed in school is to be reactive. If they learn something in class, they do the homework on it; if they have a test coming up, they study for it; if they receive a bad test grade, they change their behavior.

Conversely, in many college classes, professors expect students to be proactive, completing assignments before the due date, reading the textbook before class, studying along and along before the exam. While this may indeed be the best way to learn course material, expecting students to work against the behaviors they were taught from a very young age is harmful to the student and the classroom environment. 

College students are caught in a constant game of how they can maximize the reward they get from their schoolwork, like good grades and applicable knowledge, while minimizing their costs, endless textbook readings and lectures that aren’t always helpful. Professors that make sure their content and coursework is rewarding to students in these ways without being overly redundant are the ones students most appreciate. 

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