Whenever asked what I wanted to become when I grew up, I had a firm little girl answer: “Veterinarian.” It was quite an influential treat to be seated like royalty atop a gorgeous animal every time my dad took us along to his research trips to horse breeding compounds. In elementary school, I fell out of love with my father’s profession as soon as I met my beautiful first grade teacher with the bluest blue eyes and a smile almost as sunny as my mom’s. I knew then: I wanted to become a teacher. While in high school, I tutored the children of several family friends and acquaintances on various school subjects. Long before my graduation from college, my wish had become a set passion.
Much time has passed since the world saw that fresh graduate with her never-ending enthusiasm for teaching. Thirty-seven years to be exact. Also, much has changed in higher education – my profession, that is. Significant modifications of teaching techniques and methods took place along with field-specific curricular developments. Nothing unexpected, nor anything I will get into. The dramatic transformation of students’ approach to learning is, rather, a concern to me, as I am still alive in this arena (“approach” in the singular form is no typing error).
During my many related eager readings, “Rethinking the Way College Students Are Taught,” an American RadioWorks Tomorrow’s College Series article by Emily Hanford had my full attention at first. The more I read, the more I realized though there wasn’t going to be any “Eureka!” moment in me. For I had been relying on the same insights I had attained on my own for decades already: don’t lecture, involve students in their own learning process as active participants and adopt technology in class. What has, however, been happening at least for the last decade in my classrooms (and those of my colleagues – good friends with whom I commiserate on this matter often enough)? A competition of the oddest nature for the students’ attention: namely, one between their electronic extensions and the instructor – who by birth is not connected to a high-speed Internet service.
Let us consider a typical scene at the onset of a class session in the way Hanford describes in her article and has my complete agreement: students are sleepy, chatty, laughing and finding their seats; or they have found their seats and are sleepy, chatty and laughing. The class begins with a “shh,” she notes. In my realities of close to the first thirty years in my career, students’ chattiness, laughter and search for their chairs didn’t meet a “shh” from me. On the contrary, such behaviors used to give me assurance, for an actual engagement was transpiring between them and their immediate environment. One such conclusion, however, is a dire mistake for today’s circumstances that go back about twelve years, around the time when my students have been born into and lived in an electronically charged and charging life setting. The dilemma, therefore, is not to quiet them but rather having to instill interest in them for their own higher education to the point of outlasting their iPhones, iPads, laptops, iPods, etc. – an unattainable body snatching procedure for any college instructor. To what extent, then, learning takes place under such unrealistic expectations is the open-ended question here. Whether they are quiet or talking during the process, in other words, does not matter.
No course material or presentation style a college instructor is capable of delivering can come to the 21st century students as fast, as colorful, as illustrious and as etc. as the information flood in which they have been swimming right after their birth and continue to pass by at all times. The period between their walking year and attending a higher education institution seems to happen at warp speed. At the time they are in a college class, they still are – only for this informal commentary’s sake – babies together with whom I (or any other instructor) must work to contribute to their educational gain. Their babyhood, however, is nothing ordinary: they need and expect to be fed in the exact manner that technology has been offering them for long already. Regardless of the curricular objective, their expectation mostly equals a command: “Give me (relevant or not) data now but make it fast, appealing in color, shape and sound and free to download!” Hence, my choice of the two opposing pictures to help you visualize what I get to see in any given class session anymore: a baby with a frown – above (“Why isn’t this a high-speed connection?”) and as snug a baby as anyone can be – below (“Ahh! Great Internet service!”)
“DON’T LECTURE ME!” is, after all, a valid plea by today’s students, as the article for my commentary’s inspiration stresses. My dilemma as a seasoned teacher still remains undefeatable, though: I am not an App; nor will I ever be one. What I am about in the pyramid called higher education constitutes merely to much accumulated knowledge in the field, some wisdom for life, numerous teaching methodologies to better suit my different learners’ styles and habits, countless innovative, creative and effective teaching insights and techniques. I guess I could also add my unwavering commitment and painstaking dedication to my profession – to the extent that my personal life stayed, until now, in the background. Oh, not to forget: my love for teaching and how I thrive from my daily interactions with my students. Besides, I so greatly miss those admiring eyes I used to find on my students’ faces whenever I introduced them to solid chunks of field-specific or outside information toward their well-rounded education. Without googling any of them.
Alas! The Apps on their seemingly truest companions are now the privileged ones to get their awed attention…
Confucius is said to have asserted the following once:
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Had Confucius also had teaching in mind? I don’t know. I certainly did and do. Because every semester yet, I enter my first class with my by now notoriously known enthusiasm; to then survey the room to locate in my students eyes or demeanors that long-lost special glow, that succinct hint of excitement toward learning from their real-life teacher. Not much of any of it in sight…But I still refuse to consider that I am doing “a job” and therefore I am torn between two reactions of my own. Whether to make a counter plea to my students to say: DON’T THINK I AM AN APP! Or, to reveal perhaps an all-inclusive instructor’s wish of ultimate secrecy: IF ONLY I WERE AN APP!
Dr. hülya n yılmaz is a published author, a freelance editor and a Liberal Arts college professor with an extensive teaching career. Her debut non-academic work, Trance, a collection of poems in English, German and Turkish has been published on December 12, 2013 by Inner Child Press, Ltd. together with her own English translations of her foreign-language poetry. She maintains a weekly blog of poetic, fiction and non-fiction writings as well as her own literary translations. hülya recently launched her Services for the Professional Writer, a freelance writing and editing business. With this article, Dr. yılmaz invites attention to the dilemma in Higher Education in the US today on account of the irreversible impact of electronic developments on 21st century college students. Instead of merely diagnosing the problem today’s student generation’s have with their attention spans, she is stressing the significant role university instructors and teachers alike must assume now in order to meet the unique needs and wants of their pupils.
Web Page – www.writerandeditordryilmaz.com
Personal Blog – http://www.dolunaylaben.wordpress.com
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