A University of Virginia student has a bright idea: 'Flash seminars'

Daniel de Vise
The Washington Post

CHARLOTTESVILLE - Flash mobs assemble in public spaces to dance, protest or do battle with lightsabers.

And at the University of Virginia, thanks to Laura Nelson, they gather to learn.

Once or twice a week, students at the state's flagship public university collect in some idle classroom or lounge for a "flash seminar," an ad hoc performance of pedagogy.

The time and place, professor and students are always different. But the goal never varies: "to find learning outside the classroom," said Nelson, 22, a senior from Westwood, Mass., who is majoring in political and social thought. "To find other people who really value being a student."

With flash seminars, Nelson has found a solution to a hot-button issue in higher education: the dwindling time American students spend engaged in actual learning outside class. Research shows a steady decline in weekly study time, from about 25 hours in the early 1960s to 15 hours today. One influential study is provocatively titled "Leisure College, USA."

Nelson's idea - new to higher education, as far as university officials can tell - helped her win one of the nation's 32 Rhodes Scholarships last year.

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