The Most Expensive Seat In the House

Christian Rogers, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Computer Graphics Technology
Faculty Fellow of Innovation, University College
Purdue School of Engineering & Technology
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Much conversation in higher education today revolves around the cost to a student and the length of time it takes to pay for that education. What can be of a greater travesty is when a student discovers at the end of their college experience that the degree they chose is something they do not want to pursue as a career. As an instructor of third- and fourth year- students in video production and animation, I see two types of learners. One type of student I see is my classroom is the “go-getter” or the student who is intrinsically motivated to further their education in a particular discipline.  This is the student who considers a grade as merely a small bi-product to what they continually strive for which is excellence in their craft. They find the major to be an excellent fit for their career goals. I have witnessed these students put extra time into their projects going beyond the rubric.  They ask for extra time in the studio.  Their portfolio showcases little or nothing from classroom assignments and more self-driven or freelance projects.  The student at the other end of the spectrum is one I will call the “skater” or the student who is extrinsically motivated. This student goes through the course for the grade.  This student seems to strive for the minimum.  The student realizes that my major is not the right fit for them and does the minimum to get through the course so they can get their degree to then find something else to do. 

While this scenario takes place due to any number of reasons, a faculty member or advisor can play a critical role in helping a student navigate fit of major early on in the academic planning process. Recently, I discovered a TED talk titled “Why Great Leaders Inspire Action” by Simon Sinek that discusses the golden circle (Sinek 2009).  Sinek illustrates a model by drawing three concentric circles starting with “why” in the center, then “how” and then “what”. He discusses how most people start the sales discussion with what they make, then how they make it and then why they make it.  Sinek claims that Apple takes a different approach by starting with their “why” or their mission and selling their mission to others. I’ve seen so many students in their third and fourth year of college who don’t know their “why”, their “purpose”. They know what they are doing or even how but they have no mission that drives what they do. As faculty It is easy to get frustrated with students who seem to have little drive. We either fail these students or pass them with a low grade to get them out of the class. What if we helped our students find their “why”? What if we asked questions about purpose and mission rather than just about their previous knowledge of a subject?

As educators we may need to start this process by stepping out of our own shoes and into the shoes of our students. One framework that supports this effort is learner experience design (LX). “Learner experience design (sometimes learning experience design) is an emerging approach to learning design that uses methods borrowed from related design disciplines such as user experience design and service design thinking. User experience design can be described as the design of a user’s perceptions and responses to their interaction with an object, product, service or system through an interface” (Law et al., 2009). LX is a way of utilizing mindsets taken from design thinking to develop curriculum and tailor that content to multiple students. “LX designers, in contrast, merge design-thinking principles with curriculum development and the application of emerging technologies to help faculty tailor content to student behaviors and preferences” (Kilgore, 2016).

LX starts with activities that foster empathy for students. Simply put, ask students questions related to their own mission and purpose and how it relates to the course. Ask students how they like to learn. Ask students why they chose to be in the course. If the class was required of them ask them what major they are in and then help the student understand how the class fits into their career goals. 

As educators we don’t like to consider our instruction as a product and the student as a consumer. Tuition is being paid for the courses that I teach. While the student should have a role in their own learning, I should do everything I can deliver the curriculum in a way that helps the student learn the material but also helps the student understand how that curriculum fits into their own life. Apple didn’t just say “Here is an iPod, now go use it”. They explained the purpose and value of it and how it would change peoples’ lives. Figuratively speaking, the seat my students sit in are very expensive. As the instructor, I should understand who my students are and then help them understand how the course material fits with their own aspirations in life. I may see a few more “go-getters” and less “skaters”.

Kilgore, W. 2016. UX to LX: The Rise of Learner Experience Design. Released on

20.06.2016. Read 05.02.2017.

Law, E. L. C., Roto, V., Hassenzahl, M., Vermeeren, A. P., & Kort, J. (2009, April). Understanding, scoping and defining user experience: a survey approach. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems(pp. 719-728). ACM.

Sinek, S. (2009). How Great Leaders Inspire Action [Video file]. Retrieved from