Blindly racing to the finish line

Learning shouldn't, but too often does, end after class.

From outside the exalted marble walls of university, the common perception seems to be that within lies a uniform body of highly motivated and ambitious individuals who work hard and constantly strive toward excellence.

It’s frightening how false this is. Everyone can attest to the presence of unambitious students in the classroom.

Certain people simply appear hungry for more, for something greater. These individuals appear frustrated with the status quo, adamantly opposed to complacency and obsessed with constant personal improvement and challenge. These individuals tend to also strive towards the idea of self-actualization and endure the hardships of fearing personal inadequacy.

Is this a product of one’s environment, or some sort of natural predisposition? Likely a bit of both. To exercise one’s ambition requires time and energy and for many, such time and energy must be spread over a number of different factors in their life. For some, it is possible to focus almost entirely on personal goals and development, while for others, such energy must be spent on their job, family and other situational factors that demand attention.

People joke about senioritis, but these tendencies are in no way exclusive to seniors. It is exceedingly common for students to adopt a coasting mentality that promises acceptable performance with minimal effort throughout their entire stay at their university.

It is true that college is not for everyone, and many students enter college to appease the massive cultural preference of college education. This likely introduces a dissonance between personal desire and environment, which is a recipe for demotivation.

One major problem is the mentality that students tend to have towards schoolwork of any kind. The purpose of schoolwork seems to be its completion. Homework is viewed as an obstacle to leisure, not as a mechanism that engages the student with the class material. This is both due to the student’s mindset and the nature of the assignments.

For those who have had the misfortune to use McGraw Hill’s Connect, such homework tends to involve the least engaging and interesting assignments imaginable. Sometimes, the professor even allows for an infinite number of attempts at completing the homework, allowing constant revision and the ability to instantly check if one’s multiple-choice answer is correct before submitting. These features reduce the assignment to inconsequential busywork that can be hammered off in minutes for a perfect score with absolutely no intellectual stimulation.

With such assignments, it’s difficult to tell if the professor is at all aware of how the work is perceived by the students. In these cases, it seems like the homework is employed for the sake of its employment, to justify the 15 percent homework portion of the final grade.

It is also amazing how dramatically work ethic and ambition are affected by the professor’s teaching style. On one end of the “effective lecturer spectrum,” students hardly show up to class and spend little time and effort on assignments and tests. On the other end, lecture halls see nearly full attendance by an engaged audience that more often looks forward to the interesting work assigned.

There are only so many factors that may be changed to better facilitate a worthwhile educational experience. The situation of the student and their capacities are relatively off limits, so the university itself must take charge of implementing this sort of change. It is no easy task, since the exact factors in need of improvement are uncertain, but the first step may be to observe the classes where students feel engaged and motivated. They do exist, and these classes almost uniformly involve either phenomenal lecturers or vastly unconventional styles of teaching.

Whether motivational issues lie mainly in the student or the environment is unknown, but it is irrefutable that students will greatly benefit from an overhaul in teaching style. Professors should be encouraged to take unique approaches towards instructing. Maybe then we can begin to see the largely motivated and powerfully driven student body a university is expected to possess.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.