Students, are you asking the wrong questions?

Recently, two students stopped by my office, with different concerns. One student asked me the best way to get through a course I am teaching, which he is enrolled in. Another student stopped by to tell me about his inability to log in to our virtualized environment that we use for homework assignments. I’m not sure my comments were what either of the students was expecting, or hoping for. But, the exchange – as well as the things I asked the student to think about and consider – left me pondering this question:

Are students asking the wrong questions when focusing on their academic education?

We know the pressure some students feel to “punch their ticket” so they can land a gig in the “real world”. This pressure can come from several different sources. But, regardless of the origin, these pressures can lead students to look at their academic work as some form of “necessary evil” that must simply be overcome, rather than as an opportunity to learn, grow, face new challenges, and learn how to deal with adversity in their chosen career field of information security.

In the first exchange, I asked the student if he wanted simply to survive the course, or if he wanted to actually learn something. The student looked at me as if I had two heads, and was silent for a moment. Then, he replied that he wanted to learn. I congratulated him on taking this position, and then asked him if the question he had just asked, actually showed his desire to learn. He was silent again, and said “no, I guess it didn’t.” A few minutes later, we wrapped up a nice conversation about what the student could do to improve his technical skillset in general, as well as how he could modify his philosophical approach to academic coursework in general.

In the second exchange, I explained to the student that the information he needed had actually been posted in the course website three weeks ago (this is a 100% online course, with no physical course meetings at all). I then went on to explain to him that when I received these types of questions from students, I immediately started to worry about their overall level of engagement in their coursework, because I don’t want students to fail.

The student, who appeared to be uncomfortable with my line of questioning, said he was trying to graduate and was just doing what he needed to do in order to “get out”. I sat back, smirked at him and said “Yeah? You’re so busy trying to get out of here, that you’re not doing the things you need to do in order to actually get out of here. How’s that working for you right now?”

The student stopped, nodded his head and started laughing out loud. He then admitted that I had a point, and was absolutely right. Like the previous exchange, the student and I talked about ways for him to be more successful as he worked towards completing his degree.

In both cases, I think (hope, anyway) that the students left my office with a new perspective on how to approach their academic work, so they could actually benefit – both short term and long term – from their time in college.

So, my questions to students regardless of major:

  • Are you asking the wrong questions?
  • Are you just trying to “get through” or are you trying to position yourself for longterm success by making the most of your educational opportunities?
  • What are you doing to try and maximize the gain from your efforts, and what do you think you need from your faculty in order to make that happen?
  • Have you even considered any of the questions above? If not, why not?

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