May 8, 2008

A Call to Action

By: in Teaching and Learning, Teaching Professor Blog

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“Students DO NOT COME TO SCHOOL TO LEARN … we come because a university education is deemed socially and economically necessary … We have been brain washed into a game, whereby we memorize vast amounts of material, regurgitate it onto paper in a crowded room, and then forget about it. The academic environment has trained us to perform … Revolutionize the system. Start now. And make society and academia a more productive and positive learning and living environment.”

This student comment was received as part of research project by Julia Christensen Hughes of the University of Guelph. She labeled the quote “a call to action” and rightly so. What a stinging indictment of higher education! Obviously, not all students would agree, but I worry how many would.

The comment challenges the role of content in learning and education. Is the failure of students to see the relevance of what we are teaching their fault or ours?

The comment also indicts how we assess learning and the way grades are based on contrived performances—what a student can show that he or she knows in response to a set of questions that must be completed in a constrained time frame with no access to resources or expertise. How authentic is that?

This is a grab-you-by-the-back-of-the-neck-and-shake comment. It doesn’t feel good to be accosted like this, but it does effectively demand attention and maybe that’s what we need. Being in the classroom on a daily bases can cause us to take the conventional ways of doing things for granted. Maybe some aspects of practice merit change.

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