This post originally appeared as a column in The Diamondback
Classes come and go. While we are taking them, we can usually describe them to our friends or family when they ask. To some degree, most classes leave us thinking differently than we did before, even if it is impossible for us to tell which parts of our minds came from which professors. If a class interested us at all, we can usually hold a conversation about what we learned in it, even years later.
Still, more often than not, classes are not designed for us to produce anything worth showing to anyone. Most of the work we do is solely for the eyes of an instructor or teaching assistant, and we would never in a million years think to show our homework or term paper to an employer or interested friend.
We need our class projects to be something we can be proud of, talk about and show off beyond affecting degrees and GPAs. Satisfying curiosity is a noble endeavor, but we need to be able to demonstrate that we really learned something. No one outside the classroom can really know how easy or difficult the exam was or how well the grading served as a measure of learning. Friends, employers and even parents simply don’t care how well students do on tests. They care about who you are, what you know and what you can do.
This university is not a trade school, nor is it a factory for churning out excellent cocktail party guests. We aren’t here to become technicians or enthusiasts of a particular domain; we’re here to become scholars, capable of critical assessment and novel insight. Still, it would be nice if we had, at the end of our college career, more than one or two projects that we could point to and take pride in — papers published, apps built, products designed, medieval history blogs uploaded.
Some schools are better than others for helping students accumulate a portfolio — for art, it only makes sense. But how many engineers, business students and pre-med students have only their hard work outside of their classes to point to leadership, real-world skills and demonstrated success on projects? How many English and journalism majors leave here unpublished? How many psychology majors graduate without a demonstrable track record of helping?
It is a challenge for professors to design classes around work we can show. Despite the difficulty, the best classes at this university are the ones that end up with a result we can point to — a blog or paper published, a social venture launched or a grant granted. These are not faux projects designed to imitate or simulate the real world. We know when class projects are just pretend.
We don’t work as hard, we won’t care as much and ultimately, we won’t tell anyone about them. The great classes do not focus on business plans written and pitched but never realized or technical papers researched and written without anyone’s real need for them. They are really real.
Professors who want to be known and remembered for amazing teaching, no matter the department, will make sure that the work they assign to students is real to them. They will not just produce students who think differently, but those who can show it. Students who want to enjoy their time here and graduate with more than memories will pick such classes and such professors.