If your professor stood in front of your class and said “my purpose during the course of this semester is to set your mind on fire,” what would you envision the semester looking like in that moment? An enlightening and motivational speech every day in the classroom? A fiery debate in every class? Or maybe your grades going up in flames?…
Whatever you imagined, it may or may not have been what the professor intended. What I think Mark Carnes intended when he wrote “Setting Students Minds on Fire” was that he wants his class to be driven by the students and the students to be passionate about the topic. He began his article by saying that a high percentage (perhaps close to 50%) of students who enroll in college do not finish. Some attribute the cause to lack of funds, but Carnes argues that it is lack of motivation… basically, classes are boring. If the experiences that students have in the classroom lead to motivation and passion for their education, then they will likely find a way to finish.
Now please bear with me while I interject a brief comment here on the distinction between classes that are “entertaining” and classes that are “enlightening” or “motivational.” If you think that college is meant to be 100% entertaining, then you will be sorely disappointed. College is not meant to be that way. As with every other thing we commit to in life, even our dream jobs, there is always a bit of drudgery that we have to get through to get to the good stuff we enjoy.
However, I think we can certainly deliver classes that are enlightening and motivational on a regular basis. As Carnes discusses in his article, we can involve students in quests or games that involve their problem-solving skills. We can provide context and deep meaning to what they are learning so that they will apply those concepts to their own lives. Think about what you could do in your own classrooms and in your disciplines that could genuinely interest the students in the material.
While you are doing that: remember to carefully tread the line between entertaining and enlightening. I think some of you will agree that you have had professors give lectures in which they were obviously trying to merely entertain you and keep you awake during the class. Did you leave those classes feeling motivated? Feeling excited about the things you are learning? Feeling like you couldn’t wait to talk to your roommate about what you were discovering during that class? Probably not. But maybe a few of you have been in classes that really got you thinking about the material and how it applied to your life. How did that class make you feel? How did it affect the rest of your semester/career/life? How would you describe your experience? I know how I might describe a few of those rare experiences:
My mind was set on fire.