Last year I took a class that was taught by my advisor. This is usually a big class with around 80 students or more. I used to sit in the first row and sometimes, in the middle of the class, I used to look back, and guess what? I always see a couple of students sleeping. At that time, I could not understand why there were sleeping because I was so excited in that class (The motivation and excitement of the first semester at VT).
Now, trying to understand the students’ behavior, maybe, the class was too long. Well, this is not a maybe, this is completely true! The class was 3 hours long! and what could be worse? The class was almost at end of the day, from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm. At that time, everyone is tired from a long day and I guess everyone wants to go home!
As professors, we should consider the average human being’s attention span when planning the length of a lecture1. It turns very difficult for students to keep their attention after have been seated for more than an hour looking at a lot of slides. Depending on the length of the class, the amount of information received could be overwhelming for some students. Next day, they would probably not recall all the information given in the lecture1.
In fact, one of the things that I really like about the classes in the United States is that most of them are usually 1hr or 1 hr 15 min long. When I was doing my bachelor and my master in Colombia, 2 hours in a class were an eternity for me! Believe me, most of the information provided by the professors during these 2 hours, sometimes, was very unuseful. So,
Do you carefully think about the content that you want to convey in a lecture? Are we preparing the students for the real world? or Are we just transmitting them things that they never are going to apply in their careers?
Let’s back to the class that I took last year. What I really liked about this class is that my advisor always incorporated some stories from either his own experience or life1 These helped us to understand a concept easily. Even his sense of humor made the class more enjoyable. His jokes broke the wall between students and professor. The class was very active because we had to do several exercises. I consider this as an active learning2 in my field (civil engineer) because students can work in teams for problem-solving. They actually felt very comfortable working with a partner during the class. They did not have the pressure of being evaluated, they generated discussions, and felt free to ask questions. This is something necessary during heavy classes because all the exercises look so good in the slides, and the solutions even better! But,
Do you really understand everything just by looking at the solution in the slides or in a book?
I totally agree with my advisor when he says that
“It is not until you do it that you learn how to do it” Don’t you agree?
Another reason that comes to my mind when I think why students feel sleepy during lectures is the lack of motivation or interest in the class or the topic. For me, this is the root of the problem. If you are motivated, you do not care if the class is late or long. You always have a positive attitude and try to do your best. So, when I read the following statement, I was not surprised about it:
“Students quit and fail not because they lack funds, but because they lack motivation and interest2”
This year, I am the TA for the class that I took last year. On the first day, I had to introduce myself. Usually, my advisor asks me to talk about where I am from, my background, and my office hours. However, I decided to do something different this time. This is what I told students:
You guys are so lucky for having the opportunity to take a class with one of the most well-known scheduling experts in the industry. In my case, I had to come from Colombia, which is thousands of miles away, just to have the chance to work with him. I can tell you that I have no regrets! I know that you have a lot of work to do in this class! But believe me, at the end, everything will pay off and you will learn so much! So guys, don’t waste your time on Facebook or using your cell phones. Instead, work hard and learn from the best!
I know that I was out of the script as my advisor said but I felt that I should motivate the students in some way. You know what? It worked! Students are so interested in the class, they are paying attention, they are working on the class exercises and asking questions. They are taking notes instead of using their cell phones or laptops. It is really cool! I think that they just needed some kind of motivation.
Now, in this new learning era, as instructors, we have the challenge of taking advantage of the unlimited resources that the internet gives us and combine them with an environment that allows students to build and experiment the topics, concepts, ideas, examples, etc. in a different way3.
We have to be very creative!