Saturday, January 19, 2013

Resolutions for a new semester

I have an answer to C and D grades in your classes!

It's simple: pay attention. (stop rolling your eyes, because I can see you do that from the front of the room...more on the front of the room later)

I don't say this to sound flip: I mean it. It's just that simple.

Here's what I'm talking about. We're all bombarded every minute of the day with sounds and visuals grabbing for our attention--from advertisers on TV and websites to the music blasting through our iPods and the urgent need to get that latest update onto Facebook. Then there are the deadlines--constantly, endless, annoying deadlines--to pay this bill or to write that paper or to get 50% off.

So, when we get to class, we're all a bit distracted. But hear me out: if you let all that distracting stuff go when you walk through the door of that Earth Sciences or Humanities building, if you give yourself over totally to the professor and the subject, you can escape from all that distracting and annoying life stuff AND you can really learn more.

We professors know a lot more about being a student than you might realize. Think about it this way: who's spent more time in higher education than we have? Four years undergrad (like you), then two years for a master's degree, then another five years (at least) for a PhD. Actually, the national average to complete a PhD is longer. There's even an organization studying just how long it does take. But I digress...

If we know so much about being student, you ask, why do we make you jump through all these hoops to get a college degree? It's because we want you to learn. Not just facts--those can be looked up these days so easily--it's the "big picture" ideas that we want you to learn--things you can't look up on Google. And you can't contemplate or absorb the "big picture" of a subject if you're looking at your friend's Facebook page or sending an Instagram. You think you can, but you can't. There have been all sorts of studies done on multi-tasking and how well it works. The bottom line is that it doesn't.

So, want to get As and Bs in all your courses so you can impress your prospective employers or grad school admission officers? Then pay attention today. Better yet, sit in the front of the room. Studies have been done on that, and those students who do sit up front generally tend to focus more and do better (and if you need recommendation letters, we're more likely to know who you are if you're up there every day.)

Two more reasons to pay attention: (1) this course is costing a lot of money--either to your parents or to you so you might as well get the most out of it and (2) your GPA really does matter. It will follow you for the rest of your life. Say you decide ten years from now to go to grad school. There that GPA will be. Do you want it to read 2.4 or 3.4? It's a big difference.

One final reason: I've never heard anyone my age (don't ask) say, "gee, I wish I'd studied less in college."