Why Not Finally Answer “Why?”

Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Tutor

In the world of higher education, much more than we would like to admit, excuses become commonplace for both student and professor alike. From an educator’s perspective, I need not dive into the laundry list of excuses we have received and will continue to for years to come. Likewise, from listening to students’ perspectives, particularly when frustrated with writing assignments, I find myself just as perplexed to hear these individuals openly wonder why they are learning a particular concept. Even more astonishing is their response: “The professor never really explained it.”

Now, before assuming, I tend to prod these students a bit more and, as we will all be happy to hear, these excuses turn into responses, and they all tend to be the same. Instead of pointing fingers at the professors, more often than not I am finding that students are pointing fingers at themselves and asking the age-old question that we still tap dance around: “Well how am I going to use this in everyday life?” Now more than ever students appear to seek skills that apply to many different facets of their lives, and sometimes those skills, though they are being taught incredibly well by our great faculty, may not be so apparent to students when they sit down at night and wonder just how much bang they receive for their buck.

I think we can harbor most of the blame in this respect, though. We sometimes forget that, along with becoming a student and an academic, these folks also become members of society, where their influence impacts those around them and helps shape our very being—without sounding too cheesy, of course. Being able to apply these learned skills to daily routine gives studens an additional reason to learn, or at the very least an increased desire to based on their own self-interest.

A simple example, though a very applicable and completely imagined one, comes in the form of a student who works for a corporation seeking a new manager; however, this managerial position requires a written exam due to the day-to-day correspondence via e-mail and, as you may well imagine, this hypothetical student of ours wants a raise—see, we are teaching them well! To better engage this student in the classroom, simply mentioning how professional discourse utilized in higher education can be applied elsewhere, especially for personal advancement and growth, may well make all the difference in the world. Seeing that their improvement in, say, the Composition One classroom may engage their thought process to apply this hard work to their current situations, meanwhile keeping the future in mind for post-graduation.

(c) 2015 Clipart.com

(c) 2015 Clipart.com

These connections may not click right away due to the massive amount of work being asked of them already. Frequently students question why they must learn citation—so give them a reason! Remember, it is not always about the practice itself. Aside from higher education, where will one cite in a particular format? The places are few and far between; however, the skill itself, particularly the researching, applies to a vast variety of careers. I recently tutored a student who posed this very question, and, as they were a student within the Criminal Justice field;  I found the perfect opportunity to make my grandmother proud and put all those countless hours of Law and Order to use. We all tend to forget about connecting the obvious dots, such as how skimming through vast amounts of never-ending resources in our library pairs harmoniously with, well, the aforementioned student’s future career choice where they may well have to interrogate witnesses, explore old case files, or even arduously search for the cause of the problem, yes, here on the wonderful Internet. It seems very basic—we all teach and practice these concepts with students daily, of course, so why are we not applying real-life applicability more to our educative practices? This inclusion will not eat up much instruction time; in fact, I would be comfortable betting that this will properly excite and engage the students far more than plopping the information down in front of them and expecting a regurgitation of facts. Not only that, but the students will see the fruits of their labor. Sure, we can speak until we are blue in the face about how wonderful life will be at the end of the Yellow Brick Road that is their collegiate career, but the road consists of many bricks before our students, and I personally think it should now be our responsibility to show them why each one is important to pave the way for their academic success.


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5 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Saint Mary's University Writing Centre and commented:
    Taking the time to talk with students about why they’re learning something – especially when it comes to writing skills – can make a world of difference.

  2. Kyle Harley says:

    Precisely, Cheryl! Sometimes I liken what we do to those simple connect-the-dot pictures; at first our students may be looking at each individual dot and wondering how/why this could ever turn out to be an image, but with a tiny bit of guidance and further development, over time the picture becomes a reality. This is also a really great technique to get students into the habit of developing an appetite for learning. If they know they will use a particular concept “from this day forward,” the desire to learn, from my experience, skyrockets–and for good reason, of course! Keep up the great work, Cheryl! 🙂

  3. Cheryl Romano, Prof, Graduate Psychology says:

    Hi all, I am so glad that you gave such a great example of the concept with the Criminal Justice example! It was perfect! I, sometimes lose site of how these things will apply “outside of the box” myself. It makes so much sense to link that piece into the discussion instead of expecting them to make the connections themselves.

  4. Kyle Harley says:

    Very true! That’s incredible insight into a field so foreign to my own 🙂 Still, though, it further proves the point that students yearn to find meaning in their academics, and sometimes a little nudge in the right direction can initiate amazing growth–also, sometimes it’s hard to recognize what we do unless someone points it out to us. Keep this up! The more our students know the better 🙂

  5. Great post thanks! I am lucky to be teaching in health sciences, medical transcription, and research is a daily practice on the job. So showing the correlation to the students is a great idea. If my students don’t research the words they “think” they hear the patient could be in big trouble.

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