Learning By Making

For the last several weeks I’ve been thinking somewhat haphazardly about how to make my courses more relevant to students’ post-graduation lives. Those thoughts came into sharper focus after hearing Sal Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, say the “most important part of your college experience is what you have made” (the relevant part of the video starts at 40:45 and runs for about three minutes).

The comment really brought home the fact that students don’t really make anything in my courses. Yes, they write up their research projects and design (sometimes badly) presentations about political processes, but there’s nothing that they can point to during a job interview in terms of “this solves a problem, and I made it.” And making something is probably the strongest form of active learning possible.

Contrast that experience with the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, in which participants develop their own businesses with assistance from faculty and graduate students at partnering universities.

Another example: I have a nineteen year old acquaintance who has been selling her musicCoco Chanel on Bandcamp and her clothing designs on Teespring.* While hordes of college students sit through Econ 101 every year, she’s living it, and she’s probably learning a lot more than all the Zacharys and Melissas who watch cat videos on their iPhones while they sit in the back rows of lecture halls. When she becomes the next Coco Chanel or Oprah Winfrey, they’ll be unemployed.

So one of my goals over the summer is to think of ways that my students can walk away from my courses with a concrete accomplishment.

*I have no financial interest in either of these companies.