Required Coursees vs. Electives

In a conversation with a friend about a class that we are both optionally enrolled in he shared with me an interesting revelation.

“If this class was required, I mean if it was actually a class, I would have dropped it a long time ago.”

This friend of mine is incredibly engaged with the material and I have the pleasure of being a member of his team on the semester long project with which we are both engaged.  Theoretically you would thing that nothing about the class would change if it was required or an elective.  It is simply an administrative formality.  Yet something inherently different happens when students are forced to take a certain subject.  It is as if they shut down.  They refuse to engage.  They subconsciously decide that the body of work that the class is asking them to engagement is worthless.  Yet if they have willingly chosen to participate in this class their attitude changes.  Something is placed on the line when you as a student choose a class.  Are you more engaged because of the material or because you are genuinely interested in participating.

I view this class in which I am enrolled as one of the most important classes I have taken during my time at Virginia Tech yet I agree with my teammate and feel that requiring every student to take the class would ruin everything that I have been able to attach to.

2 thoughts on “Required Coursees vs. Electives

  1. I would agree, and I think it extends even outside of the classroom. It seems that few people enjoy doing things that are “required”; cleaning your room, taking out the trash, and taking the freshman math class that everyone swears is useless. But I do not think it is always the case that whenever we undertake something as a requirement, we automatically shut down. It all goes back to that theme of discomfort and difficulty. We hate when something is outside of our comfort zone or we are forced to do something we don’t want to. God forbid that we all automatically shut down, because then there would be quite a few more boring and stagnant people in this world. Everyone has different interests and pursuits, so naturally there will be always be a class or “job” that someone will consider a waste of time, but for others it is a lifelong passion or dream. It is really up to the student/individual to decide if they will do their best to learn something in the class, regardless if they chose it or not. And you may finish a class and think “there is no way I learned anything useful.” and you may be right, depending on your definition of “useful.” But you could have learned a great deal of interesting and engaging things nonetheless, if you engaged in the material. I always try to look at my required classes as an opportunity to learn something, anything that I may never have considered or known before. You have to take it, why not make the most of it? I think this is something that can separate success from failure. There is no growth without pain.

  2. I wonder a lot about the value of intrinsic motivation and how it is largely destroyed in many areas of life. It seems that very few people do things because they are interested in them. Everything must serve a means, it must have some extrinsic justification for themselves or for administrative purposes.

    I also wonder if the disinterested nature of some of the potential classmates forced into a required class plays a role in decreasing overall enjoyment and engagement in a class. Elective courses usually don’t end up with people who don’t want to be there.

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