Too many texts

Professors need to incentivize students to read what they assign.

Ronald Dixon

At this time in the semester, students are busy preparing for midterms. During these time crunches, students prioritize assignments based upon importance relative to other tasks. Unfortunately, though, some professors fail to realize the cost-benefit analysis with each book we read.

Students see this with professors who assign readings for the next class. When students are busy, they will skim the readings, getting the gist of the message, or skip the text altogether.

In general, students ask themselves three questions when they are deciding whether to do a reading.

The first question is: How interested am I in this? If a student must read a 30-page text that has a promising title or first few pages, there is a greater chance that the student will read the rest.

The second question is: How long is the reading? A text may be interesting, but if it’s 60 pages or more, students may cast it aside for more important tasks.

The final question is: What impact will this reading have on my class participation and grade? Generally, students strive for an A or a B in a class, but would skipping the readings lower the probability of obtaining an insufficient grade?

Certainly there is value in reading course texts, but in an atmosphere where students are pressured by courses, jobs or internships, they are going to naturally perform a cost-benefit analysis for each reading.

Each individual’s value system may be unique, and some students have more free time than others, but we all, nevertheless, give certain tasks higher priorities than others.

As a solution, I offer two recommendations to professors.

First, teachers should not assign numerous general readings. Course texts should be heavily focused on class material so students don’t have to guess at what they need to take away from a text.

Second, professors should implement readings as a part of graded class discussions or to test the students on the material.

 These two approaches would do the most justice for students that want to learn but may be too pressed to tackle texts. During midterms, students have a myriad of responsibilities; professors should understand this reality and reform their syllabuses appropriately.