What Students Want Versus What Students Need

I am a keenly interested in what students think about their learning.  I want to know what they think is fair or not, if they think they are learning or not, and if what I am doing in the classroom is helping or not.  However, I also know that students may think they know what they need, but are not experts in their respective fields and therefore do not have the same perspective.

A few years ago I had a student march into my office and emphatically tell me that he did not need to learn a particular area of content…..I was teaching a cellular physiology course and was teaching both the theory and application of Western blot procedures.  The student was convinced that this was a waste of his time and he wanted to be exempted from having to learn the information.  The student was a science student, one that was also wanting to hopefully gain entry into our fourth year thesis course…..working in a lab that most likely would use the very same molecular technique.

If I just listened to what students say that they want, even though I know better and understand what they need, that would be crazy.  It would be like letting my 3 year old have cookies for breakfast because he wanted them.  In the arenas of content, I think I have a grasp on what is necessary so that students can build on that knowledge in subsequent years.  They may not currently understand why that is important at the moment but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught.  Although I do appreciate student feedback, it is not king and it alone does not rule what happens in the classroom.  I think if it did, we would be doing a disservice.

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