Most college teachers would probably acknowledge that “things could be better” in college, that teaching could improve or, more commonly, that students could improve and that, either way, more and deeper learning could take place.
But too often, whether stated bluntly or adopted as an attitude, “things could be better” takes on only its colloquial sense, meaning just that things are mediocre or bad. But I prefer the idea conveyed in the literal sense of the phrase: that things could in actuality become better.
Indeed, the simple idea that most college classes could be better than they currently are—not infinitely better but categorically better—underlies all of the best scholarship on teaching and learning in higher education. Simultaneously critical and hopeful, this idea has its roots in the characteristic optimism of teachers and has been established through the empirical observation of researchers (for instance, see our core readings).
Borrowing a metaphor from Christopher Nolan’s film Inception (2010), I want to imagine the idea that College Could Be Better as an infectious idea: the C2B2 virus.
What You Need to Know about the C2B2 Virus
If a person believes that College Could Be Better, not just marginally so, not just theoretically so, but substantially and actually better, if they believe that changes could actually be made that would result in students learning more and learning more deeply, then she or he is infected with the C2B2 virus or “the idea.”
The C2B2 virus has slowly spread among college teachers for hundreds of years.
Symptoms of C2B2 may include:
- palpable dissatisfaction with the way things are,
- itch for change,
- thirst for innovative alternatives in teaching and learning,
- drive to find and implement effective teaching practices,
- slow burning desire to learn more about learning,
- urge to spread the idea to others.
Are you at risk of being infected? There is reason for caution but not panic.
Many people have already been vaccinated or inoculated against the idea. Some people even seem to be naturally immune. Those who do contract the idea can usually be cured with antidotes freely available over-the-counter: inertia of the status quo, difficulty of change, discouragement from failed attempts, and resistance from others. While mild cases of the idea can be cured quickly and easily, stronger cases can often be cured eventually with powerful enough doses of these medicines. Consequently, an epidemic of the idea seems unlikely.
At the same time, there are no methods known to be 100% effective at preventing or curing the idea. Some people are naturally susceptible to it, while others can come down with it even after seeming to be immune to it for many years. Even with treatment, some cases can only be temporarily cured, with the idea chronically resurfacing. Indeed, though rare, the most severe cases of C2B2 can be altogether incurable. As Dom Cobb explains, “Once [this] idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate.”
The the greatest risk of infection results from prolonged exposure to the idea through one or more of the following experiences:
- (as a student) taking one or more exceptional classes that disrupt and transform one’s understand of learning and one’s expectations about the status quo;
- (as a teacher) trying a new approach in one’s teaching and seeing it work;
- having extended conversations with teachers who are or who are working to become particularly effective; and
- reading the scholarship on teaching and learning.
Modified screen capture from Inception via Stanford Neuroblog