November 11, 2011
Writer: Hayden Coombs
Why Honest Students can be Impervious to Instruction
A problem facing many professors on this campus is how so many students with a strong desire to learn can be completely impervious to instruction. For his presentation at the Faculty Conference, Brother Ryan Nielson addressed this issue by simply stating, "Our students don't expect the instruction we give."
Brother Nielson, a professor of physics who also teaches some foundations science courses, broke down this problem scientifically for his audience. "Hearing and listening are not passive activities. If we don't expect to hear something, we may not be able to hear it. And if we don't expect to see something, our bodies may physically stop us from seeing it."
As human beings, we naturally try to give meaning to what we see and hear when there is only partial information available. Because the world around us is so overwhelming, our minds feel the need to simply filter some things out. We will often miss changes to our surroundings if we didn't expect to see them.
Brother Nielson presented a question to the entire faculty when he said, "Do we ever present students with so much information that we are forcing them edit things out? And is class different from the world at large in this respect?"
To help honest students be less impervious to instruction, Brother Nielson suggested that that all student ideas need to be taken seriously, faculty must be worthy of the students' trust. If we treat students incorrect ideas with respect - if we make class a safe place in which to risk ideas - we might then be trusted to kindly help them confront where their ideas fail, and map the paths of reasoning to correct thinking.