what to do when students don’t want to learn

The strangest thing happened to me the other day while helping train some students on a collaboration suite we have at work.  The professor had already explained that students would be working in teams, with their laptops, to develop the beginnings of a legal outline.  They would use the software/hardware solution – powered by Tidebreak’s Teamspot software – to interact with the shared document.  Hopefully, the students would discover greater productivity and learn more about how to develop the outline through this collaborative effort.

That’s all and good.  It’s to be expected and the professor had a really great and open mind about how to use the suite that night, possible uses in the future, and ideas for best practices.  What was not expected was students asking me this:

“Do I have to take part in this project?”


“I downloaded the software.  Now I’m trying to decide if I want to install it.”

My basic response to these comments was along the lines of “well, it’s for a class assignment, and I believe the professor wants all of you to work as a team, with your laptops, on the shared display.”

This did not produce much of a response.  In fact, one of the students showed a rather blatant disdain towards me and commented on how she was willing to install the software only because she was using a Mac.  She would not have done so with a Windows machine.  Clearly implying that for some reason I would be recommending the installation of software that was either going to compromise her computer or, even worse, was malware to begin with.

This honestly baffled me.  On the surface, I couldn’t believe that students would question whether they should take part in a class assignment, as requested by the professor.  Even if it’s a situation and/or environment with which they are unfamiliar – this is the professor asking them to do an assignment that is, ostensibly, critical to their education (are assignments ever not critical to your education, really?).  And while a bit of caution when installing software is always prudent, why would someone think that I, an assistant dean, would be asking them to install malicious software?

We in Educational Technology are in the business of improving the teaching and learning of our respective fields (or, perhaps, to challenge existing paradigms that have generally governed those methods).  Most of the time, we seek out innovative technologies but, more importantly, act as consultants and work with faculty to find a tool – whether new or old, cutting-edge or somewhat banal – that will help them in their tasks.  We are here to help improve things.  We are not here to cause problems, to decrease productivity or success potential.  We are certainly not here to put viruses on your computers.

I’ll admit that when I introduce myself I was sufficiently befuddled that I sounded 100% geek.  I didn’t get into how part of my department’s charge is to introduce innovative technologies and methods to faculty.  I sounded like a robot.  A nervous, very geeky robot.  But that’s not the point.

If I’m there, it’s because the faculty member has agreed that there is potential for benefit and/or improvement to teaching and learning.  If I am asking you about your progress with some technology, it’s because I want to see how far along you are in getting set up to use that technology to improve your classroom experience.

Netgen, Gen X, part-time, full-time – whatever student category you fall into – understand this.  The faculty, the staff, and certainly my department are there to help.  It is to your benefit to let us do that.

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