Hard classes key to learning
Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 14:01
In the time we've spent at UCF, we've realized that college should be mostly about what you learn and the experiences you gain and less about the grades you earn.
Of course, a high GPA is important for maintaining scholarships and graduate school applications, but a 4.0 won't necessarily help in the real world.
On Tuesday, a book titled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses was released by the University of Chicago Press. The book's release has many people questioning higher-level learning institutions and wondering what a college degree is even worth these days.
The book, authored by a sociology professor from New York University and an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, focuses on a study of more than 2,300 undergraduate students at 24 higher-education establishments across the country.
The whole purpose of the study was to determine what or if undergraduates are actually learning in college.
The researchers approached this question by asking the students involved to take the Collegiate Learning Assessment both prior to and during their time in college.
According to the test's website, it is designed "to assess [students'] abilities to think critically, reason analytically, solve problems and communicate clearly and cogently," all these skills together represent a student's ability to learn.
One would think that through a student's college experience, he or she would see a gradual improvement in these skill areas; the results, however, proved the contrary.
Of the students surveyed, 36 percent "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" during their four years in college.
For those who did improve, the gain was minimal.
The researchers found this by using standard deviation to measure the student's overall gain both at the two- and four-year points. Over the first two years the average gain among students was 0.18 standard deviations and after four years the gain was 0.47.
This means that after four years a student has moved from the 50th percentile of their class to the 68th percentile. However, this jump is only in comparison to a new group of freshmen who are just now entering college.
Although the results show very little gains in learning, the authors do point out that the average student had a respectable 3.2 GPA.
The authors of the book blame the low levels of learning on a lack of difficulty in the classroom. The survey answers indicated that half of the students never took a class that required a total of 20 written pages over the semester.
Those who were taking harder classes that required more work were more likely to excel educationally because of the increased effort level.
We shudder at the thought of all our precious tuition dollars essentially being thrown away.
We came to college to learn and improve our mental abilities; if that means taking a 4000-level class instead of spending the semester at the bar, so be it.
UCF students shouldn't merely aim to float through easy classes. They should put effort into getting good grades in hard classes, especially in light of this new research that suggests that this is the primary way to increase learning.
It's not just students that need to re-evaluate their methods, the study also found that teachers are often more concerned about their research than they are about first- and second-year students, which explains why younger students experience the lowest gains in learning.
Teachers shouldn't be afraid to dish out the tough assignments to younger students; this will truly prepare them for their later years where classes are more difficult while simultaneously increasing their learning abilities.
Although these findings are bothersome, we hope it will trigger some change in the realm of higher education.
It's our job to really challenge ourselves and make the most out of our education.