Being an intellectual is not really how it is depicted in popular culture.
- When you picture an intellectual, who do you see? Professor Zena Hitz says that somewhere along the way, the idea of what an intellectual is and does became distorted.
- "The real thing is something more extraordinary but also more available to us," Hitz adds, differentiating between an intellectual life constantly in pursuit of something else, and one that enjoys ordinary activities like reading and thinking.
- An example is young Albert Einstein, who spoke highly of his time working in a patent office and hatching "beautiful ideas" long before becoming a famous physicist.
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Get an idea of how it all goes down in this video:
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More than 70% of college students procrastinate
If you take classes online, chances are you probably procrastinate from time to time.
Research shows that more than 70% of college students procrastinate, with about 20% consistently doing it all the time.
Procrastination is putting off starting or finishing a task despite knowing that it will seriously compromise the quality of your work – for instance, putting off a major class project until the last minute.
In fact, research has shown that procrastination can be a harmful behavior that lowers a student's grades.
Now that so many colleges and universities are operating remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we worry that students are more prone to procrastinate because they have less access to campus facilities and structured support from instructors. We raise these concerns as researchers who study students' motivation and engagement and their procrastination in online learning.
As professors, we've also heard our fair share of explanations and excuses for why students missed deadlines. Everything from “my computer doesn't work" to “my Wi-Fi went dead." We even had one student claim that “Grandma died" in one course and that “Grandpa died" in another course. We also have had students claim that their roommate deleted their homework.
Whether you see those reasons as valid or not, none of them really gets at why students procrastinate and end up in those kinds of situations in the first place. With that in mind, here are four tips that can help students deal better with the root causes of procrastination when it comes to online coursework.
1. Manage motivation
One of the main reasons students procrastinate is that they do not see their coursework as relevant to what they're doing now or expect to do later on. When students find that their academic tasks are interesting, important and useful, they are more likely to try harder to get them done and less likely to put them off.
Remind yourself of the practical value of your academic tasks. Figure out the reasons you're studying something in the first place.
For instance, instead of viewing the completion of an assignment as a way to fulfill course requirements, you can think about how to turn your coursework into something related to your life or career goals. For a computer science student, a programming assignment could be made a part of your portfolio to help secure an internship or even a job – as some of our own students have done. A research report could be turned into an academic journal article to enhance your profile when applying for graduate school in the future.
2. Manage goals, tasks and time
College life can get hectic. Many college students must juggle coursework, social events and work commitments at the same time. Getting more organized helps stave off procrastination. This means breaking long-term goals into smaller short-term, challenging and clear goals and tasks.
The reason this technique works is that procrastination is directly related to an individual's preference and desire for working on a task. When a goal is too large, it becomes not immediately achievable; therefore, you will see this task as less desirable and be more likely to put it off.
By breaking a large long-term goal into a series of smaller and more concrete subgoals, you will see the project as easier to complete and, more importantly, your perceived distance to the finishing line will shorten. This way, you are more likely to perceive the project as desirable, and you will be less likely to procrastinate.
Second, you need to plan your time daily by listing tasks based on their importance and urgency, estimating how much time you need to complete each task, and identifying concrete steps to reach daily goals. That is, tell yourself that in the context of X, I will need to do Y to accomplish Z.
It is also important to plan your time according to how and when you prefer to study. For example, you may concentrate the most late at night, your memory may work the best in the early mornings, or you may collaborate better during the day.
In addition, you should use tech tools, such as calendar and task-management apps, to plan your time and monitor how much you're getting done.
3. Create a good learning space
Another important way to avoid procrastination is to make sure that your learning environment is supportive for learning.
During the coronavirus pandemic, students are usually learning from home, but sometimes they study wherever they happen to be, even at picnic tables in public parks. These places may not be best suited for academic activities.
These environments have many characteristics that may be more interesting and less emotionally draining than academic tasks. Therefore, students could drift away from academic tasks and wind up instead chatting with friends or watching sports. This is why choosing or creating a good place to study can help people stop procrastinating.
Try to set up your surroundings in a way that suits your learning habits, including where you put tables and chairs and how you use lighting and block out noises. For example, some students may enjoy learning in a quiet and dark space with a spotlight. Others may learn best when they use a standing desk next to a bright window and constantly play soft background music.
4. Get a little help from friends
Friends and classmates can help one another stop procrastinating. Colleagues and other contacts can hold one another accountable and help one another meet deadlines. This is particularly important for anyone who struggles with self-control. Research also has shown that having supportive friends and other peers can boost self-confidence and make tasks seem more valuable and interesting.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students are physically isolated from most of their friends and classmates. The social support that students normally receive in face-to-face settings, such as after-class chats and study groups, has also been moved to virtual spaces. That is, it's still available, but mainly through virtual means, such as instant-messaging apps, online collaboration tools or video conferencing software. Used wisely, these tools can help students work with friends to overcome procrastination and make the classwork more enjoyable.
Kui Xie, Cyphert Distinguished Professor; Professor of Learning Technologies; Director of The Research Laboratory for Digital Learning, The Ohio State University and Sheng-Lun Cheng, Assistant Professor of Instructional Systems Design and Technology, Sam Houston State University
Why do we deprive students of the historical and cultural context of science?
- The teaching of science must and can be humanized at all levels, from nonscience courses to technical advanced courses.
- By teaching science only as a technical endeavor, we deprive students and future scientists of a more inclusive worldview where science is seen as part of our human need to make sense of the world.
- The challenges we face in the modern world call for an engagement of the sciences and the humanities that starts in the classroom and becomes an essential aspect of the public sphere.
We've all heard this before, and many of us have experienced it firsthand: Science class is boring. It's too hard. It's not fun. It's all about memorizing a bunch of formulas. The teacher is too tough. Homework is stupid and pointless. The list goes on. Of course, there are spectacular exceptions, truly motivating and inspiring science teachers across the world. One or two of these mentors were essential to many of us who became professional scientists. What do they have that other teachers don't? What makes a good science teacher? There is pedagogy, of course. How you present the material, how you relate to your students. But first and foremost, it is passion that makes a science teacher stand out, or any teacher for that matter. Passion for the subject matter, passion for teaching, passion for making a difference and becoming someone unique in the lives of the many young people the teacher meets in the classroom. A successful teacher never steps outside of his own humanity as he steps into the classroom. Quite the opposite, the act of teaching should be a celebration of our shared humanity, of our mission to pass on knowledge from generation to generation so as to keep the appetite for discovery and invention burning.
...the act of teaching should be a celebration of our shared humanity, of our mission to pass on knowledge from generation to generation so as to keep the appetite for discovery and invention burning.
There is a side to science teaching that is formulaic; there is material that needs to be covered, facts that must be introduced, there is repetition, there is frustration. No profession is different. Like in acting, however, it is the delivery that makes the difference. You can explain Newton's laws of motion by simply writing them on the blackboard (or the whiteboard or a tablet that is projected onto a big screen) and working through a few examples. This is done across the world in thousands of classrooms every day. But if this is all you do when teaching Newton's laws, you are leaving out the best part of the story, the story itself. Who was Isaac Newton? Why was he thinking about the laws of motion and gravity in his early twenties? What was going on in Europe in the mid 1600s? Was science at war with religion after Galileo's affair with the Vatican? Where was Newton when he came up with his first insights into a formulation of mechanics that would change the world forever? (Answer: hiding from a plague pandemic in his mother's farm.) What inspired him? Was he just a hardened rationalist who only cared about describing the world through formulas? (Answer: absolutely not! Yes, Newton was a weirdo, socially detached, quiet, and probably died a virgin. Still, he was far from a cold machine, only interested in calculations. What moved him was a deep religiosity, a conviction that the rationality of the world reflected God's rationality and that the task of the natural philosopher was to unveil the cosmic blueprint so as to understand better the "mind of God.") To Newton, the practice of science was an act of religious devotion.
Why deprive students of this humanistic side of science? The usual excuse is time, as in "we don't have enough time to cover the material and delve into such stories." Nonsense. I've been teaching physics courses for over 30 years at all different levels, from non-science majors to quantum field theory to graduate students, and I can guarantee that there is always time when there is the will.
The true reason why the overwhelming majority of science classes excludes the humanistic aspects inherent in the practice of science is that most scientists don't know any of this story. And they don't know it because these topics are not part of their scientific education. Those who do know, look for this knowledge largely on their own. A typical scientific education doesn't include the historical and cultural context from which the science emerged, or the spiritual and religious inspiration behind the thoughts of many of the "heroes" of science, from Johannes Kepler and Newton to James Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. And if they do know, they've been trained not to mention it. "Don't mention philosophy, don't mention history of science, and surely don't mention religion in a science class."
Carl Sagan, one the most loved science teachers and communicators, speaks at Cornell University circa 1987.
Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel by CC 4.0
Over the past two centuries, and largely influenced by the profound and immediate impact of technological applications of scientific thinking in industry and society, the teaching of science was mostly reduced to the instruction of technicians, a specialized guild focused on very specific tasks. We became incredibly efficient at handling abstruse mathematics and computer programming, of modeling specific systems and handling laboratory demands within narrow subdisciplines: plasma physics, condensed-matter physics, high-energy physics, astrophysics, and so on. The walls erected between the sciences and the humanities after the Enlightenment have multiplied into walls erected between the countless subdisciplines within each scientific field, from physics and chemistry to biology and computer science. Reductionism took over education and we lost sight of the whole.
True, the vast amount of knowledge accumulated over the centuries, and that continues to grow at an unrelenting pace in all scientific fields, unavoidably precludes anyone from having a global understanding of a whole subject, be it astronomy or cognitive psychology. That is not what worries me, as I am, as are all my colleagues, one of the specialists. What does worry me is the enormous distancing between a scientific education and a humanistic approach to knowledge. From teaching Dartmouth's Physics for Poets for most of my career, I have witnessed the excitement of nonscience majors when they understand not the formulas of physics but the ideas of physics, the historical context from which they emerged, their philosophical and religious implications, the humanity of science itself, as an expression of our human need to make sense of who we are and of the world in which we live. (For those curious, I created a similar online course free and open to the public, Question Reality! Science, Philosophy, and the Search for Meaning )
As students learn about changing worldviews, about the importance of observational rigor and methodological discipline, of the devotion and passion that feeds the search for knowledge and the fundamental relevance of science education in our times, they reconnect with a science they had deemed unwieldy and grow as thinkers and citizens. The challenges we face in the modern world call for an engagement of the sciences and the humanities that starts in the classroom and becomes an essential conversation in the public sphere.
For centuries, universities have advanced humanity toward truth. Professor Jonathan Haidt speaks to why college campuses are suddenly heading in the opposite direction.
- In a lecture at UCCS, NYU professor Jonathan Haidt considers the 'telos' or purpose of universities: To discover truth.
- Universities that prioritize the emotional comfort of students over the pursuit of truth fail to deliver on that purpose, at a great societal cost.
- To make that point, Haidt quotes CNN contributor Van Jones: "I don't want you to be safe ideologically. I don't want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong—that's different."
Imagine someone had a knife and told you, "This is a great knife. The only problem is it can't cut anything."
You'd think, Then it's not a great knife.
"Telos is the Greek word that Aristotle and others use to define the end or purpose of something," Jonathan Haidt, professor at New York University Stern School of Business and bestselling coauthor of The Coddling of the American Mind, says in a recorded lecture at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. The telos of a knife is to cut. What, Haidt asks, is the telos of a university?
Truth—that's the purpose of higher education, Haidt says. The academy aims to be an arena where truth is sought, discovered, and explored. When the university is functioning at its best, students learn to present arguments and receive counter-arguments in pursuit of truth.
The question is then: Are today's universities achieving their purpose?
In his lecture, Haidt suggests that changes in campus culture over the past decade have rerouted university resources away from the pursuit of truth and towards creating an emotionally and intellectually comfortable environment for students.
"From out of nowhere, students in 2014 began asking for trigger warnings," Haidt says. A growing contingent among student bodies and administrators seemed to believe students were fragile and needed to be aggressively protected from "bad" ideas, offensive imagery, and provocative arguments. Students began reporting faculty, protesting speakers, and publicly shaming peers whose words made them uncomfortable.
CNN contributor Van Jones speaks onstage at the EMA IMPACT Summit in 2018.
Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Environmental Media Association
There are many places and institutions whose purpose, or telos, is comfort. But a university is not one of those places. To make that point, Haidt quotes CNN contributor Van Jones:
I don't want you to be safe ideologically. I don't want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong—that's different. I'm not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots and learn how to deal with adversity. I'm not going to take all the weights out of the gym. That's the whole point of the gym. This is the gym.
By prioritizing comfort over the pursuit of truth, universities are ignoring their purpose. Higher education should be an arena of open inquiry and free expression, where ideas are exchanged, tested, and scrutinized. A liberal education should be "an invitation to be concerned not with the employment of what is familiar but with understanding what is not yet understood," according to philosopher Michael Oakeshott.
What are the social repercussions if universities fail to achieve their purpose? New generations could lose more than academic muscle; they could lose the ability and inclination to pursue and prioritize truth. They could become so dependent on emotional comfort that they refuse to contemplate "what is not yet understood" in good faith, instead catastrophizing everything that doesn't fit into comfortable frameworks.
This is already happening, Haidt points out in his lecture. "We isolate young people from the adult skills that they will one day have to master," he says. This manifests in growing anxiety, depression, and other disorders among college students.
With college enrollment on the decline, and the global economy under tremendous strain, universities need to realize their telos—or they'll risk losing their essential role in society.