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Passion-Based Learning. Education That Truly Engages, Inspires, Invigorates, and Challenges Students

Students and faculty want authentic learning and true engagement, and hold a range of ideas about how this could be accomplished. Many feel that exams and assignments need to be re-designed, with less emphasis on memorization, and less comparison between students. Faculty and students want a culture of joint inquiry in classrooms, where all can share the responsibility of learning and discuss topics in a no-wrong-answers environment.

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Students want less emphasis on pure memorization and more on 'truly' learning. [7.1.1]

“Education should be about growth rather than information retention.” - Film, Television, and Theatre/Finance

“As a professor, I want to know how to write better exams that help students learn.” - Political Science Faculty

“I prefer to be engaged with course material and truly understand concepts rather than memorize.” - Finance/ACMS

“Test areas that are important for later success-- not just memorization.” - Vocal Performance/Pre-Health

Top Photo: Finance Faculty

Bottom Photo: Vocal Performance/Pre-Health


Students want less weight on exams.  [7.1.2]

“How can we encourage deep learning for the love of learning, instead of for a test grade?” - Neuroscience and Behavior 

“With less pressure on big tests, students can really focus and perform better.” - Mechanical Engineering

“Take home exams can be more helpful in processing and understanding information.” - Classics/PLS

“Grades for completion and quality reduces stress around exams.” - Anthropology/Environmental Sciences/Digital Marketing 

Photo: Biological Sciences

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Comparison demotivates students to truly learn. Less comparison among students, and more focus on true learning. [7.1.4]

“I have had classes where I have to present homework answers in front of everyone, and for that I focus only on the right answer, not learning it. It's embarrassing to stand in front of 100 people and be wrong so I focus on avoiding that instead of learning.” - Science Business

“The curve makes everyone forget about why we’re really here—it instead breeds a culture of being better than everyone around you. It’s panic-induced studying, not studying because of actual curiosity.” - Accounting, Economics

“I want everyone to be successful, engage, and learn non-competitively.” - Mendoza Professor 

“Feeling encouraged despite any difference in knowledge compared to peers.” - Mathematics

Photo: Finance

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Promote true engagement and curiosity in the class material. Students want the experience of learning to feel invigorating. [7.1.5]

“Active learning leads to greater understanding and engagement.” - Chemical Engineering

“Complete meaningful work to truly understand material.” - Mathematics

“The feeling of understanding something gives a sense of confidence that encourages more learning.” - Anthropology/Political Science

“Cultivate a culture that takes classes and engaging seriously.” - Program of Liberal Studies 

Top Photo: Classics

Bottom Photo: Engineering Faculty

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Students want to feel proud of their work and learning. []

“Sense of confidence and accomplishment in what was meant to be learned.” - Anthropology/Environmental Sciences/Digital Marketing

“I want students to feel happy and proud of themselves.” - Political Science Faculty

“I want to be proud of myself and feel like a student. Understanding material at a deep level is motivation to engage in class.” - Business Analytics/Political Science 

Top Photo: Anthropology/Environmental Sciences/Digital Marketing

Bottom Photo: Finance


Joint inquiry and mutual purpose. Professors and students sharing ownership of learning, learning together, and engaging in joint inquiry. [7.1.6]

“Environment where faculty and students work toward a shared goal. Students learn best when they “want” to learn; faculty also teach best.” - Mechanical Engineering 

“Able to have a time for communal inquiry within approachable faculty and ask actual deep questions.” - Business

“The search for truth is a shared enterprise, it comes from community.” - Theology

Photo: Engineering Faculty

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Cultivate a safe learning environment with norms where diverse opinions are accepted. It’s okay to be wrong. Eliminate the fear of failure, and emphasize that there is no one right answer.


“Open ended learning allows for student ownership and deep thought (no wrong answers!).” - Political Science

“Opinions should be valued even if they are not the answer that someone was looking for. Discussion in class is important, and it is important that there is no one right way.” - Industrial Design

Photo: Industrial Design

Passion for Learning: Work

Ungraded work and lower-stakes work promotes authentic learning. [7.1.3]

“Ungraded homework. Low pressure but still important assignments. Takes away the stress and lets me truly learn rather than focusing on getting points. This lets me do homework to learn, not avoid embarrassment or just get points.” - Science Business

“Having a few low pressure but still engaging assignments allow students to feel like they are learning and get rid of the feeling of inadequacy.” - Marketing

“My design professor asked us to submit one sentence of what we thought about the reading...this really motivated everyone to think hard, instead of writing 400 random words to just get the points. It was intentional on her part to assign less work but make it more intentional, on her end and ours.” - Collaborative Innovation Minor

Left Photo: Chemical Engineering. Middle Photo: Engineering Faculty. Right Photo: American Studies/Sociology

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Passion for Learning: Work

Fostering True Engagement

Below are some thought-starters and ideas, pulled from students and current research, on how classrooms can move towards true engagement.

Authentic Assessments

The term "authentic assessments" is currently used to describe assessments that closely mimic what students might be expected to do in a real-life scenario. Some definitions include that students should be able to demonstrate their knowledge in ways that fit their strengths and interests. Below are some basic differences between traditional assessments and authentic assessments:

Traditional Assessments: 

  • Responses are chosen from a set of provided answers. 

  • Typically one right answer to a question. 

  • Students might not be asked why a certain answer is the correct one. 

  • Knowledge is typically demonstrated via pen and paper exams. 

Authentic Assessments:

  • Knowledge is demonstrated in ways that mimic real world opportunities and contexts. 

  • Multiple solutions to problems - not only about knowing the right answer, but how you got to the right answer.

  • Allows for teachers to understand a student's thought process.

  • Student-centered. Students are able to display their personal strengths


Ideas for Interesting, Real World Examples

Students feel a difference in motivation and engagement when real-world examples are timely and interesting. The most direct way to understand what is interesting to current students is to ask them. 

  • Case studies from interesting current events, rather than dated case studies

  • Teachable moments from current events 

  • Assignments that allow for students to application to current topics

Ideas for Increasing Motivation by Showing Relevance

  • Set the stage at the beginning of the semester for how this knowledge or skill can be used​ in the real world. 

  • Industry speakers (in-person or zoom). Speakers can explain how they're practically applying a skill, the value of a skill, and will help students to connect their learning to the larger picture and their post-grad goals. 

  • Incorporate real-world projects such as working with industry sponsors, scenarios, case studies, etc. 

  • Explain the tangible benefits, such as resume talking points, jobs obtainable, etc.  

Ideas for Purpose of Assignments

  • Quality > Quantity. When possible, give students assignments that have a clear purpose that extends beyond memorization. Students feel they're better able to dedicate themselves to fewer, high-quality, intentional assignments. 

  • Assignments that model work that students can picture themselves doing in the workplace. "HW1: Your boss needs you to reconcile and merge these lists using Excel..."; "Write an article for the Times about..."

Ideas for Hands-on Projects

  • Reach out to recent alum in your field of studies--for example, newly-minted programmers, columnists, consultants--and ask what they wish they would have learned via a hands-on project in college. ​

  • Find community partners that can provide mock problems they're facing, for student groups to solve. 

  • Encourage staying informed. Assign low-stakes, completion-based grade for reading news articles on the topic. 

Asking Students About Learning Styles

Asking students about how they learn best often provides the "why" behind why some students come to lecture, and others don't. Students can also share what they want to be held accountable for in order to learn well. 

Open-Ended Survey, to understand how students learn best. At the beginning of the semester, you could allow students to answer open-endedly:

  • "What environment do you learn best in?" 

  • "What has worked best for you in past classes to 'get' the material?"

  • "What should you hold yourself accountable for to learn well?"

Multiple Choice Survey. Allow students to choose which "Learning Needs" sound most like them, with an option to elaborate or write their own, including these choices pulled from the Summit:

  • "I need to be in the classroom environment to learn and focus best" 

  • "I need to go at my own pace. I often find myself referring to or preferring learning the material outside of lecture."

  • "I often need 1:1 help outside of class to have my questions answered."

  • "The option to miss class for mental or physical health reasons is something I usually need to take advantage of"

  • If these descriptions do not capture your learning style, please elaborate or write your own: ________________

Passion for Learning: List
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