What we do in a course matters more to learning than our interest in the topic; the medium is the message

What do you really learn by signing up for a full-time semester at school? With repetitive coursework and boring routine especially in the middle of the semester, many students have difficulty working with enthusiasm. Have we turned our schools into highly academic, test-driven pressure cookers? Many of the exam that are administered to test students’ progress in a course have not motivated or sought to improve their standing in the class, in fact, it has done the exact opposite. I have been intrigued by the notion of the classroom and the revolution in education ever since I was enrolled at McGill.

At most classes at McGill, no one will ever ask you a difficult question that makes it apparent you have not done your readings; it is much easier to fudge online assignments or to plagiarize them outright; the assignments themselves will tend to be simplistic, multiple choice-style tests and quizzes that fit the technical structure of the medium much better than more complex forms of writing.

My opinion on these kinds of multiple-choice tests is particularly on concurrent validity. The extent to which test scores accurately estimate an individual’s learning is questionable. There are just certain aspects of learning that is hard to be captured on a multiple choice questionnaire; for example, a curious mind and an ability to ask questions that critically assess a research article come to mind. We should keep in mind that the corollary to “what is measured is treasured” is “not everything that counts can be counted.”

This is however not to say that multiple choice tests are invalid. Incorporating some topics we touched on in class, topics such as factual learning may be best captured with the method in a timely and efficient manner. Fortunately, I am introduced to a seminar course this semester that taught me a lot of what I have not experienced for the past three years. I have the fortunate exposure to a professor who is willing to change things a little bit, a little that makes a difference. From the conventional wisdom of most psychology classes at McGill, in thinking about how I would go about designing a class experience, I would like to propose applying certain principles because it may well be crucial for our learning experience in this critical period of our lives. One such proposal I have experienced first-hand in my class is peer-supported discussion on topics and content for the week; in place of lecture-based approach to learning, students prepare for each class by reading assignments that prepare them to discuss the topics of the week with other students. The principle behind such learning is that the content of the course is best learnt not by having the best content, but by how and what we do with the content, in class.

In many ways, having such principles and approach to learning in the classroom has enabled me to be engaged and motivated in ways I have not anticipated.


Postman, N., & Weingartner, C. (1971). Teaching as a subversive activity. United Kingdom: Penguin Books.

Srigley, R., & Whetter, D. (2016, March 21). Pass, fail. Retrieved from http://thewalrus.ca/pass-fail/

Test students on their social skills? (2016, March 8). The Opinion Pages. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/09/opinion/test-students-on-their-social-skills.html?mtrref=query.nytimes.com&assetType=opinion&_r=0

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