Long: Practice what you profess

Craig Long

At Iowa State, we are bombarded every day by new information. We are expected to learn as much as we can from it. But inevitably, some things slip through the cracks. Think back. What are some of the most memorable things you’ve learned? If you’re like me, whatever you learned, you learned it from a professor who embraced what they taught and treated it as though it was some of the most important information they’ve ever recited. However, it isn’t just what they say. It’s what they do.

I’ve got a classic example of what not to do. I’m experiencing it now, in a freshman-level natural sciences course. It satisfies a graduation requirement and happens to be on renewable resources. The book we use is Natural Resource Conservation.

And for the majority of classes, in this several-hundred student lecture, handouts are issued. Multiple handouts on some days.

Doesn’t that strike you as weird? A class about conserving what we have in the environment, where we have covered depressing subjects including natural habitat loss and overconsumption of materials, uses thousands of sheets of paper each semester. If that isn’t irony, I don’t know what is.

Now, I’m aware that paper is a “renewable” resource. Trees eventually grow back; that’s true. But other than the destruction of the trees, gasoline is used to power machinery to cut and transport the logs and electricity is used to process it into paper. Even if it is printed on recycled paper, producing recycled paper is energy consuming as well.

This is the 21st century. The internet has made all sorts of information available instantly, including that which your professor wishes you to see. There is a WebCT page (yes, this is one of the few classes that has not transferred to Blackboard yet, as well), which is perfect for this sort of thing.

If students wanted to print it from there, they still could. Laptops, tablets and smartphones are everywhere in this class, allowing instant access. This would be more efficient and energy saving and likely preferable to many students. I typically refrain from grabbing a paper, but even when I do, it ends up as a crushed ball in the bottom of my backpack by the end of the day. Even if I recycled it, it still used up many more resources to produce the handout and recycle it than would be necessary.

I’m sure my class isn’t alone. Many in the university are like this, I’m sure. While the university, in an effort to cut costs, has generally discouraged the printing of handouts and the syllabus, I’ve been in a few classes that have disregarded those edicts.

The other harmful side effect, particularly in a class about the environment, is that it discounts what we are learning. Nothing against the professors, I like them both. They both, from what I know of them, do deeply care about the environment and are extremely knowledgeable. It also can be frustrating to teach a freshman lecture course. It may be the case that without the handouts, the students wouldn’t read them at all. But, some level of responsibility is required, and if the students don’t read, it’s their own fault.

It simply makes it difficult to take what they are teaching at face value. If resources are reaching critical levels, and these professors intimately know it, why don’t they show it? Showing personal care toward whatever is being taught, in my experience, is the best way to make students interested and enthusiastic in something they otherwise may not be. If all professors made an effort to make this one simple show of dedication toward their subject, then students will reciprocate.