A student once said to me “Professor Stonebraker, I like your class, but I also feel like I need to take a nap after it.”
As previously mentioned, I really enjoy teaching in an active learning classroom. But I am also aware that active learning is often more challenging than we give it credit for. What we are asking students to do is often to do more cognitively challenging things often in ways that they have not done them before. That takes labor.
The problem with active learning in academia is that we expect the highest most productive output during the times in which students are the least likely to be ready to perform. I teach a class that meets at 8:30 in the morning on a Wednesday. I can tell you for a fact that I’m not at my best at that time of the day, and I go to bed at 9pm like an old person.
There’s a reason why professors focused on papers and take home exams for so long. That meant that students could do the “hard” more cognitively challenging parts of learning at their own leisure. Even if you think you weren’t ready to learn during the traditional lecture all you really needed to do was soak up what was said, write down as much of what was said in hopes that later you would be better able to understand what was said. In that classroom universe, we really aren’t expecting that much more out of our students really data entry during class time. Any more would just be asking for trouble.
Imagine if there was some of device that would make sure that the students stayed focused and also kept them awake at 8:30 in the morning? Wouldn’t we want that in all of our classrooms?
I keep a candy basket in my office. I fill it mostly with stocked Halloween and Valentines day candy. At times I’ve also used some extra Starbucks stars and gotten one of those cardboard boxes of coffee. You would be amazed how much more awake those students are when they have had a bit of coffee. You would be amazed at how much better they are at doing the “hard stuff” of active learning when they are more ready to learn.
Is this overkill? Should I be encouraging sugar and caffeine in a society where we already have too much sugar and caffeine? Maybe. But the thing about my class is that it exists in one space, not throughout all different times, and I think it’s a little unfair to depend on students to come prepared for before each and every class for a new and challenging learning environment. We ask students to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks, what’s wrong with buying them a little candy to help them make it through?