Students fight back against the resistance

Student learning, and their resistance to it, is the subject of debate among faculty members and collegiate professionals. They question what can be done to improve learning, how to reach individual students and how to inspire students to want to learn. Anton Tolman, professor of psychology and author of Why Students Resist Learning: A Practical Model for Understanding and Helping Students, presented some answers to those questions in the Fulton Library Jan. 31.

Tolman worked with Chris Lee, adjunct professor of English literature and composition, and Trevor Morris, program coordinator in the Office of Teaching and Learning, to research and understand what influences a student’s resistance to learning.

Also, several students played a large role in writing parts of the book and contributing their own stories of resistance. [This book] provides a practical definition to what we mean by student resistance, said Tolman. If you read articles related to [it], you find anecdotes and stories to illustrate what they mean by resistance. They don’t give us a definition.The book integrates existing articles on the subject and provides a model to increase faculty understanding of why students resist.

Tolman, Lee and Morris found there are a variety of factors that contribute to a student’s unwillingness to learn. Race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and being a first-generation student all influence the way a student perceives learning. Instructors were asked to try to understand that these differences dictate how receptive a student is to certain ideas or challenges in the classroom. [Resistance] is systemic. It’s not caused by a single thing. It’s not because they are a millennial, it’s not because of their class, it’s not because they are first generation; it’s all of them, said Tolman.

It’s the culture around us and the way we interact with them.Student expectations also influence their receptivity to learning. Rising costs of tuition and increasing enrollment contribute to students feeling entitled to classes going the way they want it to, according to Lee. This, combined with consumer culture, might be causing some problems with student learning. Using the research gathered, Tolman created the integrated model of student resistance that shows the different influences contributing to student perceptions of learning.

Instructors can use this model to create a more productive learning environment. Tolman suggested that instructors can positively impact students by focusing on just one corner of the model, rather than trying to fix them all. The good news is, if you’re a teacher … and you understand system theory, you don’t need to actually change all of it in order to get a beneficial result, said Tolman. Once you start to change one corner of the model … you can then have a systemic effect

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