How Can Professors Inspire Students to Want to Learn?

Library of Trinity College, Dublin (De Agostini/W. Buss/Getty Images)

Education doesn’t accomplish much unless the student desires to learn. Otherwise, it’s just time spent for nothing more than a paper credential for the student and a nice job for the teacher.

In today’s Martin Center article, Professor George Ehrhardt of Appalachian State University reflects on the question of inspiring students. His thoughts are prompted by a recent book entitled Super Courses by Professor Ken Bain.

Ehrhardt writes, “At the end of a whirlwind tour of courses ranging from physics to Russian literature to interdisciplinary studies, Bain leaves the reader with a common denominator. Because curiosity drives humans to learn, the burning question of course design should be how to best provoke and feed students’ natural curiosity.”

All right, but how do professors find out how to arouse that curiosity — assuming that it exists at all? A big problem with college is that it draws in large numbers of young people who are mostly interested in having fun and obtaining the credential.

Bain says that students react badly to being told they are wrong, so professors should try to get them to discover when they’re wrong.

Ehrhardt finds some useful information in Bain’s book, but worries that a lot of what higher education does stifles student curiosity. He concludes, “As the COVID crisis moves into our rear-view mirror, Bain’s book suggests that instead of going back to old debates, we should re-consider not just online teaching, or higher education, but the very idea of education itself.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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