Worth Sharing: Students aren’t learning enough – a brewing crisis in higher education

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Too many graduates are not prepared to think critically and creatively, speak and write cogently, solve problems, comprehend complex issues, accept accountability, take the perspective of others, or meet employer expectations.

What are YOU doing in your classes to address that?

Indeed, higher education globally continues to follow a relatively passive learning tradition with full responsibility for learning placed on students. 

It ‘s easier that way, amiright? That way we can blame the students when they don’t do as well as we hope/expect/we did.

Teaching duties are increasingly left to adjunct faculty with few incentives for tenure-track faculty to spend time with undergraduates or improve teaching. 

I have asked for compensation for course development. Full-time faculty often get course relief (a reduced teaching load) when they are developing new courses or re-design existing ones. “Adjunct” (called sessionals or part-timers in Canada) get nothing.

It is not surprising, then, to hear faculty lament, “They were supposed to learn how to ___ before they got to my course,” filling the blank in with any number of skills.

See comment about blaming students above.

Autonomy of disciplines, lack of true investment in general education, absence of faculty consensus about what students should learn across the curriculum, and weakness of academic advising undermine any sense of coherence in students’ learning. The consequence – and working assumption – is that constructing coherence among individual courses and learning experiences is the student’s responsibility alone.

Many universities spend time and money developing “mission statements” and university-wide goals. I suppose that’s a fine start, but we need to turn these things into something we can assess. Often these statements are so vague as to be useless. 

Success in achieving core higher-learning outcomes requires an approach best accomplished cumulatively – requiring more instruction, practice, assessment and feedback than is now provided, or expected, within single courses or other isolated learning experiences.

Among other things, we really, REALLY need to stop nickel-and-dime-ing our students. We need to coach them, NOT spoon-feed them. We need to engage them, not threaten them. We need to recognize that education is not efficient, OR easy. 

WE, as faculty need to step up to the plate.

Source: Commentary: Students aren’t learning enough – a brewing crisis in higher education

For me my most jarring wake-up call was taking on a course (to teach) in 2013 that I hadn’t taught in years, only to see that the syllabus was virtually identical to the one I had used back in 1982!
That’s 30 YEARS of teaching the same course in the SAME way.
THINK about that.
When I looked at the assignments that had been used, they too were effectively the same. We’ve learned some things about teaching and learning in the last 30 years.
SURELY, this should have an impact on how we assess students and the kinds of assignments we give.

Since then, I’ve been asking myself many hard questions about what I am doing, WHY I am doing it, and exactly what the students are supposed to get out of it. (Check out some of my posts on gamification for more on that.)
The answers have caused a paradigm shift in my own thoughts and approaches to course design and to how I assess my students.
I get a real mixture of excitement, dismissal, and defensiveness from other faculty when I try to share what I am learning. A few have adopted some of my approaches. Most have not.

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Worth Sharing: Students aren’t learning enough – a brewing crisis in higher education — 1 Comment

  1. Posting on behalf of Ian Schreiber (from a discussion on FaceBook)

    Even without getting into pedagogical theory, I could make the case that “traditional” classes like Calculus can still be updated on a regular basis, if for no other reason than to keep the material relevant to present day.

    When I took Calc, one of the things we learned was, given the speed and above-ground altitude of an aircraft using doppler radar and the speed that it’s approaching a car below, how to calculate the speed of the car. It’s an interesting problem, and also something that would have been literally impossible to mention in a Calc textbook from 1900. 😀

    These days we have all kinds of interesting problems that have mathematical solutions: optimizing network bandwidth usage, smart power grids, resource allocation, landing space rockets on other planets… some of these things are in the news, some are very important, some are extremely interesting, all are current and relevant, many were not even conceivable just a few years ago.

    If nothing else, you can pull problems from pop culture. I had a college Physics textbook that regularly referenced Marvel/DC superheroes (things like calculating angular velocity of Batman swinging from a grappling hook). But pop culture changes. A few years ago, doing some physics problems with The Watchmen would’ve been awesome; today it would seem a little dated, but you’d still be totally safe with a dragon-physics problem referencing Game of Thrones… for now.

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