If college fees are about to put us into debt for the next 10 years—and for most of us, they will—we had better be getting our money’s worth. Though this conservation rightly gravitates around a concern for how our degrees will fare on the job market, it’s useful to take a step back and ask what we’re paying for when we’re sitting in the classroom.
If you do the math, and assume you are taking the average 15 credits per semester, then every hour you spend in an Oswego State classroom is costing you $13. If you think it’s fair to factor in additional college and dorm fees, it works out to about $50 per hour. Thirteen bucks per hour is about twice what you pay for a 3D movie, and $50 per hour is the price of decent seats for a Kanye West concert.
In my last few semesters, I’ve had a lucky streak of good professors and courses. This has made me realize just how much can be accomplished in each of those $13 hours. I’ve also seen enough to know that when you get unlucky, you can find yourself in a classroom where almost nothing gets done.
Too many of us are OK with this. When the professor does nothing more than press play to show a movie, we’re happy. But it turns out that it’s probably the most expensive movie we’ve ever seen. When he or she devotes 30 minutes to some tangential rant, we don’t feel cheated out of $6.50. But we have been.
Sometimes the point of a lesson won’t be completely clear until the end of class. I’m not counseling impatience. But it might be useful to everyone, professors and students alike, to imagine that every 60 seconds, each of the seated students feed a quarter to the machine to keep the class going. That is Oswego State tuition for the typical full-time student roughly broken down into the price per minute. Maybe if we all imagined ka-ching sounds of quarters dropping each minute, it would help everyone maintain focus on what needs to be taught and learned.
When professors are wasting classtime, we need to remind ourselves that we have the power to pull them back on topic, to ask the questions that need answering, and to expect that our classroom minutes are used effectively. Professors are, first and foremost, performing a service, and we have the right to make sure we get what we pay for.
Once we think of classroom time as being rather expensive, we can quickly think of ways in which it could be better spent. I find it surprising that most of our professors have yet to make drastic changes to how they teach in the digital age. Khan Academy and similar services have arguably made the college lecture obsolete.
If professors would record their lectures and ask that students read both their text and watch the lecture before class, then classroom time could be reserved for activities that benefit the most from student-teacher interaction: answering questions, providing clarification, discussion and practicing problems. This idea, called the “flipped classroom” in education research, is something I would love to see.
There might not be an optimal teaching method. In fact, the excellent professors that I fondly remember have chosen very different methods, but what they all had in common was the urgency to fill class time with as much valuable content as possible. If all students and faculty kept this same concern in mind, perhaps we’d speak to the value of the classes we took as much as we do the value of our degrees on the job market.