For the @Stanford project, my project partner and I created a survey for students in an introductory materials science course. The audience included all levels of undergraduate education, with the majority being freshmen and sophomores. We have since used this survey in other courses (including one with primarily PhD students). In the survey, we asked a variety of questions, and one of the key ones was: “Looking back one year from now, how would you like to remember this class?”
When we analyzed the student responses, two key messages emerged. First, students wanted to remember the class in a positive light (“fondly” or “as something useful” or “enjoyable”). Second, students wanted to remember the class as a collection of “challenging” and “valuable” moments. What these two patterns show is that students do not mind putting in the sweat and tears as long as it leads to positive memories. The worst scenario, it seems, would be to leave blood, sweat, and tears in insanely challenging assignments, the overall experience of which was then also negative in memory.
What was extremely interesting is that students treated the class almost as an entity with its own agency. Multiple students wrote that they wanted the class “to provide” or “to create” these experiences and memories. While this might be semantics, what this leads to – at least in writing – is a relinquishment of agency for these experiences from the self and onto this entity of the class. So here we have students who know how they want to remember the class and want to do the remembering, but see the class as a primary agent in delivering those memories.
As a team, we took away two key points from this: students desire what we call “fondly gritty” experiences and expect the class to deliver them for the students. Fondly gritty experiences are moments that require some level of grit in the present so that we can remember them fondly, or positively/enjoyably, later in the future. It is unclear if the fond remembering is meant to validate the grittiness of the experience almost as a rationalization mechanism or if it represents genuine positive feelings about the grittiness in and of itself. It might be both, depending on the kind of student someone is and the context that someone is in. And while a student cannot control everything about a class, I wonder how we might encourage students to co-create with their teachers fondly gritty experiences.
Put more strongly: how might we turn students into co-creators rather than consumers of their future memories? After all, is that also not a way to maximize how much we remember of a time of our life? By constructing courses in such a way that they prime students for fondly gritty experiences, do we not increase how much of the class the students actually remember? And in this way, students not only get the most out of their time in the present, but also retain most of it in the future. Our vision of future education was one that focused on courses optimized for memories of fondly gritty experiences. And it is a vision that continues to intrigue me.