Sunday, December 18, 2005

Forward ho!

Are Colleges failing? Well, of course they are.

Derek Bok claims that the solutions are all there, but professors are too stuck in the mud to try them. Basically, he's another one of these "active learning" people. The argument is that lectures were fine and dandy ten years ago, but today's students are doing terribly. So, we need to try something new. According to researchers, that something new is "active learning". To quote Bok:

Further studies indicate that problem-based discussion, group study, and other forms of active learning produce greater gains in critical thinking than lectures, yet the lecture format is still the standard in most college classes, especially in large universities.

You know, some of us have actually tried these "active learning techniques", or as I like to call them "Hey kids! Why don't you teach each other this stuff and I'll go collect a paycheck!" methods, and then finding that they don't really work any better, in fact, the kids actually seem to learn a lot less. No, according to Bok, we'd all see the brilliance of this Next Big Thing if only we weren't so... wait for it, "conservative".

Freshly minted PhDs typically teach the way their favorite professors taught. This pattern introduces a strong conservative bias into college instruction, a bias reinforced by the tendency of many faculties to regard the choice of teaching methods as the exclusive prerogative of individual professors rather than a fit subject for collective deliberation.

There's something terrible about teaching the way our professors taught? So, what we should be saying is: "Hey, all that lecturing and close reading shit was great three years ago, but times change old man! This is a new world, and today's students enjoy hanging out and talking about clothes a hell of a lot more than they like your crazy, old-fashioned pedagogy!"

Of course, the problem couldn't be that the administrations see their schools as a "business" that is getting bad feedback from the "customers", while students see intellectual persuits as being beneath them somehow. Nope, the problem is that professors aren't ready to cave to this mentality quite yet. No point in returning to the old ways when the new ones haven't yet had their chance to fail.

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