A growing number of college students report feeling disengaged in class and struggle to retain information learned in lecture, but experiential-based learning could help.
The academic publishing company Wiley released its State of the Student 2022 survey showing 55% of undergraduates and 38% of graduate students struggle to maintain focus in their classes. Similar numbers from the sample of over 5,000 students show a struggle to retain material learned in these courses.
This could be due to the abrupt shift to online learning in March 2020 brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It could also be that this generation of university students views its education as a tool that should directly prepare them for their careers. Eighty-one percent of students, both undergraduate and graduate, reported in the State of the Student that they feel it is important or very important that they engage in company-led projects that mirror post-college work. The report noted only 30% of institutions incorporate this.
Minnesota State University recently launched MinnPoly, a polytechnic and experiential-based learning program to combat this problem.
Mathematics professor and MinnPoly executive director Brian Martensen said he recognized students have a desire and practical need for real-world experience before graduating.
“For some students, that fully online model works really well, and for other students that doesn’t work,” Martensen said. “At the same time, students often don’t want to come into a classroom and just be given content or lectured at. So we feel like the right blend is using technology as a resource to connect people and collaborate to get content.”
MinnPoly does industry outreach to connect organizations with students to collaborate on projects for them. These projects have ranged from designing engine components to community assistance for Iron Range communities with aging steam power energy systems.
“Our industry partners are often shocked at what an MSU Mankato student can do,” Martensen said. “From the students’ perspective, it allows students to know that they got an authentic project. This is something they will actually see in the field.”
However, the majority of students are not part of a polytechnic institute. The need to maintain focus and retention then falls on the individual student.
Teresa Neubert, Assistant Director of the Writing Center, said she often hears students complaining about lecture-based learning when they use the center’s tutoring services.
“We always tell them that they can’t change their instructor, so they have to figure out how to be more active during class,” Neubert said.
She and the tutors on staff will recommend alternative ways to engage with the material, such as recording the lecture and listening to it while driving or different note taking techniques.
“The main thing is they have to do something in order to find engagement on their own to make it active,” Neubert said.
Header photo: Since the pandemic, students have struggled to find ways to stay engaged in the classroom. MSU has started a new MinnPoly system to let students to collaborate on projects to further enhance their education. (Lilly Anderson/The Reporter)
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