Workshop report, part two: Answering the “Why?”

At a June 15 NERCOMP workshop presenter Zak Stein voiced the sometimes-unasked student question “Why should I care about school?”  If we wish to foster a genuine love of learning in students, the question deserves attention.

Let’s look at the more specific question “Why should I (the student) care about research?”  We could point out the immediate benefit of a better assignment grade.  Then we could point out that research skills help in overall academic success.  I’d like to think of longer-term benefits as well.

For example, we can think of each occupational field as a party.  At a party people have conversations.  You generally want to listen at least a little before entering a conversation.  Doing research is the way you listen, the way you find out what people have been talking about in your field.  Then you enter the conversation by doing your project.   By learning research skills you can be up on the conversations in your field.

What other reasons can I come up with?  What reasons can I give for learning specific skills?  How often do I make these reasons transparent in my own teaching?  As I prepare future instruction sessions, I can begin to ask these questions and others.

“Assessment of student learning: Radical implications of the new science of learning.”  Presented in Norwood, MA, for the Northeast Regional Computing Program: June 15, 2010.