College education part 4

When students go to college, how many have a career plan? How many of them have educational goals? And how many of them have asked why do they go to college? College education is NOT about study, pass exams, and get degree but much more than that. College is the place where students plan for their lives, their careers, their future, and “mature” into contributors to their society but who will help them to understand the purpose of a college education?

College education is more than just “academic learning” because it also involves friendships, relationships, mentorships, and citizenships that sometime faculty members and school administrators do not pay enough attention to. When students have good friends to study with; good advisors to provide career guidance; and good faculty mentors to advise on technical aspects, they always have a successful “college experience”. This type of success is more than getting good grades, passing exams and graduate as it is also about maturing into responsible persons in a society with moral character as well as knowledge and skills.

College students need proper guidance from the faculty where they receive advices, helps, and supports so they can realize their potentials and become confidence in their ability to lead a productive life after they leave college. However many faculty members only focus on the transfer of knowledge but not pay enough attention to other aspects which include the development of responsible professionals. The job of a college professor is to “educate” which means much more than just teaching. By not paying enough attention to other aspects of education, we allow students to leave school with “academic knowledge” but nothing else.

The goal of education should not be develop “academic scholars” but bridging the gap between theory and practice so students can apply what they learned to work as professionals after they leave the school. A college professor should not just lecture but also listen, ask, answer, advice and encourage students to excel to reach their full potentials. College classroom should not be a place with rigid schedule and fix lectures but flexible to adjust to changing circumstances. Effective teaching is not about standing in front of the class lecturing or having your eyes fixated on a slide projector while you talk but walk around the classroom and pay attention to the reaction of students on your teaching. College education is about caring, nurturing and developing both the minds and the skills of students.

Few years ago, a young teacher asked me: “How do you know that you are doing a good job?” I told him: “You will know that when former students come back to your class and tell you that your teaching changed their lives, or when students tell you that your course is the best one that they have taken.” As teachers, we do not teach for the money but we teach because we enjoy it. We select this profession because we want to develop professionals with good moral characters who contribute to our society. The key aspect of university is to articulate its educational values (i.e., knowledge, skills, respect, moral, responsibility, accountability, citizenship etc.) and be able to incorporate these values into the ways we educate students.

To teach students what they need to know and must do outside of the academic structure, we must change the way we teach. We need to move away from the rigid instruction of “Knowledge transfer” toward more “Active learning” where discussion of a wide variety of subjects related to what they must be prepared to plan for their future, how to plan their careers, and what they need to develop in order to achieve their education goals. We need to emphasize the role of education in this knowledge society and the lifelong learning attitude that students must have so they can function well in this changing time.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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