Academic apathy pervades student life

Credit: Juan Fernandez/Art Staff Credit: Juan Fernandez/Art Staff
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Now that Carnival is over and we are preparing for final exams, it’s a good time to reflect on “academic apathy.” It’s that feeling that motivates you to BS your way through an assignment, to skip a class because perfect attendance is not required, or to procrastinate without much guilt. Academic apathy often results in doing the minimum amount of work required to meet the cutoff for a certain grade, and it detracts from learning. Academic apathy is usually caused by a lack of engagement in the class material, confusion, or an overbearing work load.

Academic apathy is inevitable around finals, when there is more work than time to do it well. Students are forced to prioritize their work and determine the minimum amount of time and effort to make a certain grade. This type of mentality makes it difficult for students to get engaged in the material. But even earlier in the semester, academic apathy was still prevalent. Carnegie Mellon is a tough school, and students often have to take classes in areas that they do not find interesting. Also, many students spread themselves thin over multiple majors and minors and many difficult classes, and this practice encourages, if not requires, the apathetic mindset of only doing the minimum amount of work.

The problem is that these factors are hard to and should not be changed. Carnegie Mellon should remain a difficult school, and it defeats the purpose of engaging students in class material if the class material has to be changed to make it more interesting. Also, if students are interested in having more than one major or picking up a minor, then denying them the opportunity to pursue those interests will make them even more apathetic. However, there are two ways that the administration and professors can increase engagement in class material without dramatically changing or taking away from other areas.

Tools to track progress:

In general, when you have a goal, you are more motivated to work toward that goal when there are clear and concrete steps to attaining it. For most Carnegie Mellon students, the goals are to earn high grades and, eventually, degrees. Professors and the administration can increase student engagement in classes by presenting students with clear and attainable, but still challenging, paths to reach their goals of high grades and degrees. Unfortunately, grading rubrics and methods will vary from professor to professor, and the course requirements for each major are complex and frequently changing. However, while the path may be intrinsically cloudy, professors and the administration can make it clearer by providing students with tools to monitor their progress in achieving high grades and degrees.

It’s great that most professors provide their students with a grading rubric, and tools like Academic Audit and ScheduleMan take out some of the anxiety students might have about meeting all the degree requirements, but there is still room for improvement. For example, teachers could make better and more frequent use of the grade book functionality on Blackboard. Carnegie Mellon could also develop a tool that maps out possible course plans for various majors and minors.

More emphasis on classes in Carnegie Mellon media:

The most important part of the undergraduate college experience is the classes, and Carnegie Mellon offers some of the best classes in the world. These classes should be celebrated, but most Carnegie Mellon official media, such as the Carnegie Mellon website, focus primarily on other things, such as extracurricular activities, faculty research, and alumni achievements. These things are important and deserve coverage, but the lack of coverage on classes implies that classes aren’t something to be excited about.

It would send students a more positive message about classes if Carnegie Mellon began covering more issues related to classes. For example, the university website could do a profile piece of a particular class, including interviews with the professor and some students, a summary of the material covered, and descriptions of some of the larger class projects. These ideas have little downside, but a lot of upside. Obviously, they won’t bring engagement up 100 percent, but they should encourage and enable students to become more interested in the class material.