It’s always surprised me how many classes I have in the Modern Languages Building — at least one each semester since I started at the University. On such an expansive campus, one on which I’ve yet to enter a good number of the buildings, it seems odd to spend such a great deal of time in one auditorium.
The Statement is The Michigan Daily’s weekly news magazine, distributed every Wednesday during the academic year.
Sitting in a 400-person lecture halls, I am always tempted to surf the web, check my texts, and lose focus on the topic at hand — education. From a quick glance around the room, I would say that I’m not alone in that respect.
Shelly Schreier and her Golden-Apple-winning lectures can captivate an audience with the same flare as a Shakespearean performance, but I’ve found many professors, through no fault of their own, cannot.
This isn’t surprising. The professors at this University weren’t hired because they are world-renowned public speakers, or because they have personalities that fill an auditorium. They were brought to Ann Arbor because they are simply the most brilliant minds in their respective fields of study.
After delivering a lackluster lecture, many of these doctors of science and humanities will head back to their office and literally change the world through their academic exploits.
Why then, do we expect them to stand in front of a lecture hall and keep the attention of college students — perhaps the most easily distractible demographic in recorded history?
Freshman year, when I was in Schreier’s Psychology 111 class, I was concurrently enrolled in an Organic Chemistry lab. My GSI, who now works somewhere in the biotech realm of the Silicon Valley, was not particularly adept in teaching. Even so, I remember the class being valuable in seeing the practical applications behind the work we learned in lecture.
Don’t get me wrong — organic chem lab is a special kind of Hell that I wouldn’t wish onto my worst enemy. Enrolling in the 8:00 a.m. Friday section of a four-hour lab doesn’t help either. But, at the end of the day, you learn a lot and gain an appreciation for the chemistry behind basic science.
Similarly, I remember volunteering in a lab at the medical school before I had even completed my intro bio sequence. Thanks to interactions with one professor and one patient postdoc, I learned more in some afternoons than I would in months of a standard lecture course.
In case any students have missed the memo, this is one of the largest, most advanced research universities in the world.
When I was applying to Michigan, I remember that some of the smaller colleges would market themselves based on their student-to-faculty ratio or the number of classes under thirty students. These are all valuable measures, but don’t necessarily assure a quality education. Having professors on campus doesn’t help students unless those professors are truly accessible.
The University could make moves to reform its current systems. Some professors should not ever be placed in front of lecture halls. But that doesn’t mean students cannot take full advantage of their expertise in other ways. It’s up to those individuals on both side of the equation — students and teachers — to make sure the University is getting full use of the $1.3 dollar research enterprise that has developed over the last 198 years.
Take teachers out of the lecture halls, and put them back in the labs where they are more comfortable. Let students develop meaningful connections with these experts and, at the same time, learn in the environment where they will eventually be working.
Professors standing awkwardly on stage in the MLB doesn’t do anyone any favors.