Is it their fault?

Students are often blamed for their disinterest in academic pursuits

By Zachary Nelson

The professor must first convince the student that the subject at hand is useful in real life. Only then will the student agree to care about anything the professor says.

It is a complaint of teachers and parents alike that students are not engaged in coursework. Professors and parents decry this apparent disinterest as laziness or another flaw of character (Kohn). They claim that video games and socializing, “is all they ever do.” To confirm this, I conducted a survey of UB students this past month (n=21). Student engagement in various activities was measured on a 1-7 scale (7 meaning high engagement). Electronic entertainment scored a 4.46 while spending time with friends scored a 5.95. Meanwhile, academic pursuits (class lectures and homework assignments) scored only a 4.1. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1 shows how engaged students are in the corresponding activities. A score of 7 indicates “very engaged.”

Figure 1 shows how engaged students are in the corresponding activities. A score of 7 indicates “very engaged.”

To understand the reasons behind this undesirable deficit, we will consider the average day of a gamer who attends UB. First, this student listens for an hour and a half to a lecturer talk about a subject which does not seem to have an application the real world. Then, during their study time, the student attempts to memorize this seemingly meaningless information and so he can fill in the correct little bubbles with a led pencil at the end of the month.

The student then goes home and unwinds by playing a video game where he is participating in a breathtaking rescue scene. As the student is playing, he reacts emotionally as if he was actually doing the act himself – which would certainly be an exhilarating and engaging experience (McGonigal).  

Wouldn’t it be more natural for our brain to engage in the video game instead of the class lecture? Wouldn’t it be natural for our brain to tune out a lecture that is perceived as irrelevant to normal functioning? Wouldn’t it be natural for the student to pursue the next most productive alternative? (i.e. texting or watching sports highlights in class).

Perhaps students are harshly critiqued by parents and teachers unnecessarily. Talking down to someone for following a natural mental process may be quite misinformed and potentially hazardous to the portion of the student’s brain that dares to think beyond the PowerPoints and scantrons.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that the content UB lectures are irrelevant or meaningless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much rigorous work has been put into building the theories that are taught in the textbooks. However, I am suggesting that if the contents of the lecture are perceived by the students as being disconnected from reality, students will perceive the lecture as a waste of time.

Fixing the problem does not require an overhaul of the wealth of knowledge we have accumulated over years of rigorous academic research. The solution, instead, lies in the presentation of the information. This is where further research should be done.

Image Source: Zachary Nelson

Text Citations:

Kohn, Alfie. “From Degrading to De-Grading.” High School Magazine Mar. 1999: Print.

McGonigal, Jane. “Gaming Can Make a Better World.” YouTube. TED, Web. Dec. 2016.

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