Teaching a Course Students Don’t Want to Take

There's always a course students don't want to take. Most likely it's a required course, maybe a general education option, probably dealing with content students are convinced they don't like (even though their exposure to it may be minimal) and requiring skills they're certain they can't develop. These can be difficult courses to teach. How these courses get launched plays an important role in determining the direction they take for the rest of the semester. Here's a rundown of some of the challenges and some potential responses that are more effective at the outset than later on.

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There's always a course students don't want to take. Most likely it's a required course, maybe a general education option, probably dealing with content students are convinced they don't like (even though their exposure to it may be minimal) and requiring skills they're certain they can't develop. These can be difficult courses to teach. How these courses get launched plays an important role in determining the direction they take for the rest of the semester. Here's a rundown of some of the challenges and some potential responses that are more effective at the outset than later on. It's a big course with students coming from a range of disciplines. Most don't know many or any others in the course. Students are convinced the course content is of no interest to them. Students are anxious. Can they learn this material? Can they do well in this course? Will the course show them and everybody else how stupid they are? Despite policies in the syllabus and your strongly worded statements about coming to class prepared, some students are going to come to class unprepared to see what happens. If nothing does, then prep before class isn't a prerequisite, is it? Many students tend to be passive in courses they don't want to take. They like to hunker down, hide out, and have the education done unto them. You want to be realistic about these courses—about any course, really. Your job is teaching; students are responsible for learning and there's no way you can do their job for them. At some point, your responsibility ends and it's up to them. But you don't want to end before you've done your very best to make learning the outcome of the time spent in your course.