Passive students

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Obscure assistant prof:
I am wondering if others are experiencing the phenomenon of passive, unreactive students, especially in morning classes.  Student passivity is a problem for all the faculty members I know (except those who teach advanced courses), so it's not just that I am a boring teacher. I'm not; I am something of a ham. Some of our students actually wear pajamas to class in the morning (it's a residential school). Faculty members have a term for this attitude: the bovine gaze.

Is this just a problem in my college, or is this happening elsewhere?

See: Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education: As Lite Entertainment for Bored College Students," Harpers Magazine (September, 1997).

Equally obscure and assistant:
I've found I've had to "act" much more like a teacher (formal, stern, challenging) than I actually feel is natural for me or, to be honest, appropriate for a university-level class.

By this I mean giving pop quizzes, assigning in-class writing, calling on students, remarking on ill preparation, needling the room with phrases like "come on, people, think", acting a bit like the bad cop, and so on.

Remarkably, my audience (for that's what they act like) have actually responded quite well to this. Lately I've seen them begin to sit up and (at last) participate. Treating them like adults, inviting their thoughts, hoping they will meet you half way, none of that seems to work. I think they have to feel pressure in order to engage.

Unfortunately, your students are not unique! The only remedy I have come up with is to stop requiring attendance. The motivated and/or bright students come to class; the others do not. While this is not a cure-all, it has certainly helped the classroom environment and made for better discussions.
Out of curiosity, are there universities that require professors to track attendance?

Yes, they're sometimes a problem, but the pajama thing is a bit over the top. I would make no pajamas a rule; that is unbelievable and crass.

One way around things is to have group activities that are marked ... . Don't do an early-morning lecture, in other words.

And also add in a writing assignment. I find my students say way more in their writing than they say in class ... .


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