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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: J.15 "Boredom"
Reviewed by: Gwyn Casey, caseygl@uc.edu
Posted on: May 11, 2004
Updated on: May 11, 2004

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I am continually faced with groups of first-year college students that appear to be bored and unengaged with their schoolwork. As Mark Edmundson says in “On the Uses of a Liberal Education: As Lite Entertainment for Bored College Students,” “I’m disturbed by the serene belief that my function [as a teacher] is to divert, entertain, and interest” my students. Refusing not to keep trying to gain their attention, I attended session J.15, chaired by Kathleen J. Ryan of West Virginia University in Morgantown, in hopes of obtaining new insight that would help with reducing/dealing with boredom in the classroom. I was pleased. From formally defining boredom to examining the psychological effects of physical classroom space, this session my attention and interest; the presenters gave a performance worthy of applause.

Jackie Grutsch McKinney from Ball State University, Rebecca Jones from the University of Texas Pan American, Beth Carroll from Appalachian State University, and Elizabeth Howells from Armstrong Atlantic State University combined to present an energetic and enthusiastic presentation. With emphasis placed on students as audiences, the topic of boredom became a challenging subject. By example, it became easy to see how meaningful course material is often reduced to bulleted points, thanks to the technology of Power Point, and consequently, the material is often reduced to less than engaging course presentations. Need we be reminded that boring presentations of this sort show a lack of consideration for our audiences? Therefore the question was raised, how could we expect students to engage when as teachers we often fail to recognize the value of the delivery of the material that we present? After all, basic communication teaches us that we need to value and adapt to our audience, not merely present them with material as if consumers of a product.

Several suggestions were made about combating boredom in the classroom. First, make boredom a subject for writing. For example, students could be asked to write in response to the fill in the blank question, "I’m so bored with [fill in the blank]." Essays/stories could result while dealing with the resistance to become engaged with the class, especially if the class is required. Second, we can make an attempt to challenge students when they say, “This is boring!” We can ask them why, making their replies valuable not only for producing written responses but critique of our courses and classroom demeanor. This seems simple enough; however, as teachers we also need to realize that students may seem bored because they do not know how to engage with their course work (hence even more so the importance of our performance in the classroom).

Of course, many of us have tried various methods to further engage students; however, have we thought about classroom design? Since students learn better in favorable environments, the session previewed the importance of consideration for how physical space affects pedagogy. After looking at slides from various classrooms across the country, the conclusion was that most classrooms appeared to be dull and sterile, making our audience wonder why we often receive dull and sterile essays! Ultimately the question became what is the ideal classroom? Additionally, does physical space make a difference in learning to write better? What an interesting consideration, and yes, a topic for further research.

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