Teaching in the changing time

A teacher lamented: “Today many students are lazy and have no desire to learn anything. Many come to school without direction and only do the minimum to pass the exam then move on to the next class. They want the degree without learning much which explain the high number of unemployed college graduates. But as teachers, many are tired of dealing with these unmotivated students, and I am considered quitting …”

I told him: “As a teacher, do you understand why are students losing their motivation to learn? Since there is a big gap between what the school teaches and what the market needs, how can you motivate students to learn when they know that what they learn do not help them in their career? It is easy to blame the students for lack of motivation to learn but have we ever reflected on what we teach and the way we teach? Have we ever engaged students in class discussion? How many of us just lecturing the same materials for years without improving?”

“No one says teaching is easy. But it is getting more difficult than ever before because today’s students are not the same as twenty or thirty years ago. To keep them learning, they need to be actively engaged; else they will be distracted by other things. My friend, Professor Rosenberg often joked: “Today teachers must compete with Facebook, Text messages, YouTube, Twitter and many social media in their classroom and some will not succeed.” Therefore, to be more effective, we cannot use the same teaching technique but must adjust our teaching to meet the need of students.”

“To motivate them to learn, we need to explain the benefit of the course materials. We must show them the value of that knowledge in the students’ future because students will learn when they know what will benefit them. Our role is not only transferring the knowledge but also provide guidance to help them to build their future. Today teaching is no longer just academic but also guiding students to develop into adulthood, where they learn about their roles and responsibilities plan their career, acquiring needed skills, achieving competencies, getting jobs, succeed in the workplace, contributing to the society, building a family, and be a good citizen.”

“In order to do that, we need to create a new learning environment where both teachers and students are developing a mutual relationship and sharing the same goals. For example, I often ask my students: “How well is your understanding of the materials in the last lecture? Are there any questions you have before we continue? By asking students on a regular basis, I share my concern with them about their learning. Students will feel more comfortable by asking questions to clarify their understanding, and the class becomes a positive learning environment where students focus on learning rather than passing tests. It is essential for students to know the value of having a good education that allows them to build their career in the future, I always explain the relevancy of the course materials to their career goals. For example: “You need strong programming skills in order to work in the technology area.” Or “If you do not learn statistics how could you work on machine learning algorithm and predicting the outcomes of a data analytics program?”

As teachers in this fast-changing time, we need to re-evaluate our approach to teaching to meet the students’ needs. It also helps us to be aware of what is effective while working with students. I believe that by creating a positive learning environment for students, by expressing our enthusiasm to teach, by demonstrating our concern for students’ success, we can make a difference in students’ learning experience.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University