Education is something that seems to be "done" to students. But, that's just the problem. We don't have a "culture of doing" focused on students. We do to them, instead of getting them to do for themselves. We try to educate them instead of encouraging them to learn. Of course, this problem begins long before they reach the college classroom. As a vice president at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Marie Artim pointed out “This is a generation that has been ‘syllabused’ through their lives." http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/01/26/why-are-so-many-college-students-failing-to-gain-job-skills-before-graduation/
As a result of this and their other schooling experiences, they have "learned helplessness."
When they get to college, we do nothing to combat this but rather continue it with our legal-length syllabus and hand-holding advising where we practically build their entire schedule. As a result, they begin their experience in college with very little ownership of their experience. Add to that the number of them who have been told by someone (parent, teacher, whoever) that they have to go to college. Do we ever ask them why they are here from the beginning or do we just start telling them what they need to do?
In the classroom they are given everything or told everything they need. Again, little ownership or responsibility for doing on their part.
In my in-person ethics course their first major assignment is to decide on something they want to learn (related to the course or not) and start learning it. This usually wipes out 25% of the class who have no idea what to do and often confuses others in the class. They have never been presented with the opportunity to own their learning and educational experiences.
Their second major assignment is to take what they've learned and "do something" with it. I don't specify what that "something" is. They have to figure it out. On their own. Most have never been presented with this kind of problem-solving assignment where they have a problem that has no definite answer that they can find in the back of the book if they can't figure it out on their own.
Our whole emphasis on learning outcomes continues the problem by focusing on what "we" can do as educators to get students to succeed. But, no one seems to be asking the students what they can do. Are we too afraid of lowering our enrollment or retention rates to engage honestly with students as they come in the door and really assess who will benefit from what we offer and who won't and advise those who won't on other options that might benefit them better?
So, clearly we need a culture of "doing" in our schools. It would require a radical re-think of most of what we do to interact with students and it will take time to break the cycle of learned helplessness but in the end everyone who engages with colleges that focus on doing would benefit. Imagine a school where people knew that if you went there you would be engaged with a group of people who were really trying to help you find your place in the world even if that place did not involve enrolling at that college. If they did enroll, they would be actively involved in doing things from the very start: learning to figure out the courses they need, enrolling in them, engaging with other students and faculty, networking, learning, and doing. If they did not enroll, they would be teamed up with real advisors (i.e. someone who gave real advice not simply someone who builds schedules) and together they would investigate all the options available from gap year programs to apprenticeships to entry-level positions.
In other words, imagine an institution that was a partner for learning and exploring not simply an institution that focused on retention, enrollment, and outcomes data. In the words of Seth Godin that would be truly "remarkable."