As I mentioned in this post, I have been doing some reading and reflecting on teaching. It’s been both exhilarating and dismaying. The overall impression thus far? We have no consensus at all on what schools are for. How students learn. What they should learn. How best to teach. Whether schools, as they exist now, have any future at all.
Here are three tidbits that I have found thought-provoking in the last couple of days.
1. In “The Future of College” by Graeme Wood (The Atlantic, August 13, 2014), we meet the man behind The Minerva Project, a for-profit, stripped-down model of the liberal-arts college that educates students in a discussion-based, seminar format via an online platform that sounds like Google Hangout on steroids. The views of the founder, Ben Nelson, are pretty much summed up in this quote from the article: “Some claim education is an art and a science. Nelson has disputed this: ‘It’s a science and a science.'” On all this, a former dean at Harvard comments, “I’m sure there’s a market for people who want to be more efficiently educated. But how do you improve the efficiency of growing up?”
2. Wow. Education researchers distinguish among approaches taken by students to learning: (1) surface (memorizing for a test), (2) deep (seeking to actually understand the material), and (3) strategic (doing whatever you have to do to get high grades). Now comes this from a 2007 lit review on excellence in education: students who adopt the first approach may well find it hard to adapt to, well, better teaching. In a 2004 study, that type of student tended to undermine attempts to implement a problem-based curriculum in the classroom. Problem-based learning, according to the author, “did not meet the students’ normative expectations of ‘teaching and learning.'” Translation: Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are not real food. Hand me that Big Mac, please.
3. Lest we think professors and teachers are immune to this kind of thing. A 2005 questionnaire found no difference in conceptions of teaching (e.g., as imparting information, as transmitting structured knowledge, as facilitating understanding on the part of the student, as bringing about conceptual change and intellectual development in the student) among new, experienced, and established teachers. And no effect of formal training on their conceptions of teaching. Translation: many teachers themselves are not open to anything new. In effect, they don’t believe in learning.
Sigh. We have a lot of work to do.