Break convention, learn actively to make classes your own

As classes begin and the flow of school starts, it's easy to re-establish a pattern of traditional learning. In such a framework, the professor is the dictator and the students are assumed to be absentmindedly absorbing knowledge in the classroom. Before this routine becomes agreed upon, it may be important to consider what the classroom could be like if a reexamination was made and there was an attempt to redefine the academic experience. There is definite potential at the college level to work with the other students along with the professor to establish a more inclusive and cohesive learning experience.

In my women's studies class we were assigned a reading by bell hooks entitled "Building a Teaching Community." The article uses the study of pedagogy to examine how classrooms can become active and engaging learning spaces. Pedagogy is considered to be the art or essence of teaching which wholeheartedly rejects the philosophy of indoctrination: the idea that students and professors have distinct and unchanging roles as indifferent consumers and authoritative experts, respectively. This philosophy not only represses change and dynamism in the classroom but also encourages tedious and uninspiring lessons.

In order to combat this view of learning, hooks argues for a connection between academic work and personal experience. She warns against the mind-body split in the classroom, which suggests that the mind and experience is a separate entity from the physical body. It is important to connect personal experiences and identities that may include upbringing, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity and culture from one's role as a student or professor. If students and professors acknowledge that individuals in the classroom know both themselves and their experiences and recognize that they can bring them to table, everyone will be more open and approachable.

Contemporary educators argue that the emphasis today on memorization and standardized test scores severely detract from a classroom experience that may include a more emotion and discussion based experience. Professors must be willing to give up some of their power: instead of simply relaying information to students so that they will score high on tests, they must evaluate the class as academically stimulating. Many people still assume that if a class is entertaining and students are engaged, that the class is an easy A and doesn't need to be taken as seriously. Instead, it is the most engaging classrooms that are the most memorable and most valuable.

After the first week of classes most students have probably gotten a chance to feel out what their classroom experiences will be like. If there is discomfort with the ways in which the classroom is organized or if power roles already seem too rigid, action must be taken. Students attending college have the potential for much more freedom and input in regards to their needs and desires. Even simple changes such as organizing the seats in a circle to promote engaged discussion may positively affect the learning experience. If professors are unwilling to make changes, students can always get the most out of their education by actively engaging in subject matter and sharing personal experiences that may relate to the material. Hopefully, other students will recognize the initiative and follow suit.