Across the United States, public universities are focusing on providing resident students with the “college experience.” With the movement to present lectures online as a strictly audio-visual experience, there is a natural feeling that something is missing from the post-high school experience. This has led administrators to contrive to restore the social interactions that occur on campuses and proclaim this is the missing 50 percent of a university education. Unfortunately, just as the online “course” is barely a shadow of face-to-face teaching, the fun-and-games socializing that passes for the out-of-class “college experience” also fails to provide the real college experience.
In 1987, a Distinguished Professor at my university spoke to assembled faculty and students. He advised students to not only attend every class, but to also get a full education outside of class.
He meant that students should stop in at professors’ offices. At a good university, faculty doors are open. They are there to help, not just when a student is struggling in coursework, but also to listen to where you are in life. To share the difficulties of being an intellectual. To help advise in career decisions from an experienced position. To help a student see a bigger world of ideas.
In this last year, research by Pascarella and Gillig at the University of Iowa confirmed this advice and found that “meaningful interactions with faculty members outside class, along with clear and organized teaching, had the strongest positive effects on students’ motivation during their first year of college, which otherwise tends to drop significantly.”
The Distinguished Professor went on to stress the importance of extending that classroom learning into student interactions. In academic campus clubs, senior students can share advice with entering freshmen in the same major, helping the youngsters decide on careers and demonstrating that they can survive. These contacts with older classmates and professors also help students mature. If they just study hard, in a few years they too can enter medical school, etc.
Many elite schools, such as Harvard, house the majority of their students in thematic residence halls to maximize this out-of-class educational experience.
And the philosophy and literature and music addressed in class discussions can continue late into the night, from top bunk to bottom bunk, as classmates carry the lesson further as they share their own life experiences. The study of academics is not just for a grade. Academics are for moving each student’s understanding of life to a higher level.
And the Professor recommended travel. Students view the world as their hometown viewed the world. Travel helps students gain a wider view. Even if they cannot travel, there are foreign students on campus, sitting next to them in class and in the cafeteria. Deep engagement with foreign students helps students realize that on the one hand, they have the same human needs and desires. And yet they foreign students often view the world much differently than our students do. Students learn that there are many other ways to view world problems, and perhaps our provincial view is not the correct view.
Sadly, in today’s national discussion of “the college experience,” nothing academic is included. Social clubs, pep sessions, fun and games, recreational facilities—yes. But more faculty doors are closed. Advising is done by an impersonal computer. Each student feels like a number because they are treated as a number.
This problem has been caused by confining academics to classroom “teaching” and considering it just an audio-visual experience. Just as this was a failure in the 1960s as televised instruction, it remains a poor excuse for teaching today when delivered over the internet.
A new breed of American university administrator thinks that the teaching task is completed in the classroom or on-screen. The rest of the college experience is considered “time-to-party.”
But when you remove academics, you have taken “college” out of “the college experience.”