The Netflix Study Method


We had a really honest discussion the other day in my study skills class about how we spend our time. Well, I mean, it didn’t start out totally honest. It took a few minutes of coaxing, a few minutes of me staring skeptically at them, and maybe a few, “Come on, man’s” before we descended like a submarine on steroids into the dark waters of truth on student study behaviors.

Netflix. That’s all I’m gonna say. Netflix.

In this class that we call GUST, we get to talk about things like this. Students get to stare inwardly at themselves, examine the baseness, celebrate the goodness, and make plans to improve. Most students are reluctant at first, but within a few weeks, they’re hooked on the idea of self-improvement, and it’s really rewarding to watch them harness the power of themselves

Sometimes, though, there is a big disconnect. I’m not going to lie; there are times that I just can’t relate to what they are saying. And it’s not usually when we are talking about stuff in class – the discussions are great.

It’s most often when they have a quiz.

It’s most often when they have a quiz they were told about in advance.

It’s most often when they have a quiz they were told about in advance on a chapter they were told to read . . . in advance.

Did I mention the study guide they were given (in advance) that matches the chapter they were told to read (in advance) that matches the quiz they were told about? In advance?

It’s most often when they bomb the quiz because they didn’t read the chapter that I don’t understand them. And I find myself using the phrase that all of my colleagues use on a daily basis, “I cannot care FOR you.”

“I cannot care for you.” Can you just take a moment to envision the professor angst that matches that statement? Picture us, standing at the head of the class, wringing our hands with tortured, beseeching looks on our faces. We have given them our best. Our lessons are engaging and interactive. We’ve tied in funny YouTube videos. We’ve had small group discussions and large group discussions and pair shares and scavenger hunts. We’ve made sure to to teach to the auditory learner and the visual learner and the hands-on learner. We have been engaging, and we have been funny, and we have been real.

And they STILL didn’t read the chapter.

It’s a disconnect. Because mentally I go back to that auditorium at the University of Houston where I sat with 200 complete strangers to learn history from a teacher who spoke in a monotone from a book. No projector. No study guide. And I passed. I know you feel me. They told us to do the work, and we did the work.

And it’s taken me a while, but I see it now: these kiddos are not like me. But that doesn’t make them bad. They’ve just grown up in a totally different world. I didn’t have a cell phone in college. I didn’t have cable. I didn’t have social media. I didn’t have YouTube. I didn’t have as many distractions when I didn’t want to work. I’m not excusing the behavior. Trust me; I’m not that person. Ask all the kids who came to my office for discipline between 2003 and 2008. I’m trying to understand it so I can do something about it – me and the entire population of professors who teach college freshmen.

I’ve found that they don’t even know what they don’t know. They don’t know how to study. They don’t know how to take notes. They don’t know how to shut it all down and read the chapter. They’re awesome at being entertained, though. They’re truly an excellent audience. It is what is so scary about our world, but that’s a separate blog altogether.

So, this is where we are – we are teaching study skills. Some are swimming. Some are sinking. It’s a slow process for many. I mean, come on, man. It’s freshman year. I’m talking about certificates and degrees and they’re still in the exuberantly confused puppy stage of newfound freedom.

Anyway, we are getting there. And I’m starting to understand them more. I mean, I plowed through four seasons of Homeland like national security depended on it. I have Facebook. And Twitter. And Instagram. And Tumblr. And LinkedIn. And a blog.

And I have grading to do. And planning to do. But I’m here with you instead. Entertaining you. Because you like being entertained. And you’re such a good audience. Technically, it’s all your fault. It’s not me; it’s you.

So, where does that leave us? Pretty much where we started. They’re going to have to learn the hard way, like we did. Some of them are going to succeed, and some of them are going to fail. Some of them are going to move on, and some of them are going to stay behind. Some are going to stop coming altogether. In the end, it’s totally true: I cannot care FOR them.

But, I can care ABOUT them. And that’s something I don’t know that my professors did back in the day. I know they loved their content. I know they were passionate about it. And I loved them for it and respected them enough to do the work. But the research shows that today’s learner simply doesn’t respond to traditional ways of teaching. They require more. Isn’t that something? After all that school, many of us find ourselves still learning. I watch Amy Axtell come up with one engaging lesson after another to teach basic reading skills. I watch Tanya Stanley do service learning projects to connect students to the world around them. I watch Emily Peebles master technologies that put our feedback directly in students’ hands with the click of a mouse. Constantly learning. Constantly evolving. Because one semester comes right after another, and every class is different.

You know, it’s actually a lot like Netflix. It’s happening one episode at a time, but they want to get to the last episode as quickly as possible. And I get that. I totally get that because watching the regular season of Homeland sucks like nothing has ever sucked before. But this way is actually the right way – the life way. One step at a time. One class at a time. One assignment at a time. There is no binge-learning in college. Too bad, really, because they’d be great at it. 😉



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