Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Challenge when students say “I don’t care”

One complaint most of us, university professors, about our students is “they don’t care”. I’ve been thinking about that. Why student say this?
Is learning new things no longer fascinating?
Maybe this results from the dramatic increase of the information flux in our digital era. Students have all the information they need about a topic, literally, at the tip of their fingers. The problem is always distinguishing good and useful information from the bad one. Also, the ability the read about a topic, doesn’t mean I understand it to the point I apprehend it. But is this enough? If I teach them to be critic about what they read on the net, or explain them a topic the best I can, does it mean they care? I’m not very confident.
Let’s think in the opposite direction.
When I teach, do I care?
In my experience, students react differently according to the preparation degree of our classes. But even if I prepare the best I can, and even if I enthusiastically explain them a part of the subject. A quick look and while this works for some and you see it in their attentive look, most, apparently, still don’t care.
So what triggers “caring” for something?
Connection.
If you’re connected emotionally with something, or someone, you care. If you’re not connected, you don’t care. As simple as that. Take, for example, how people care about their iPhone, bike, car. They care because… they like it, right? Interacting with it is rewarding. It makes you happy.
So, maybe we need to rethink our teaching practices.
I cannot expect a student to “like” my discipline, but I could explore what he likes and search for connections.
I may oblige him to fit my view of what a class should be, but I could explore his view of what a class can be.
Most of YouTube videos, or Facebook, with a lot of likes contain stories. We mustn’t forget that knowledge, before teaching for the masses, was conveyed through stories. Also, people connect with something when they feel involved. When that something is part of them. They identify themselves with it. So, how can we inspire in this daily experience and improve our students connection with our teaching?
We need to be creative.
Think out of the box.
You’ll be criticized by your colleagues. Unappreciated.
Unsupported by those closest to you because that brings extra work.
But I’m sure it will be worthy and rewarding.
In my case, I’m thinking about bringing the social networking approach to class. A movement of acting and reacting. If a student acts and his colleagues can react in a positive sense, this could lead students feeling their work matters to others and helps them improve their knowledge.
The reason every discipline is part of a course is the experience of its fundamentals in our lives. In such a way we needed to explain them and build a scientific building around those subjects. Given the few changes in university teaching, this building became heavier.
It’s time to turn the page and strive to make old disciplines renewed by the creativity we experience today.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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