January 26th, 2010

A New Word


Here’s an interesting new word: “courseocentricism,” obviously related to words like ethnocentricism and egocontricism, it’s defined as “a kind of tunnel vision in which we become so used to the confines of our own course that we are oblivious to the fact that our students are taking other courses whose instructors at any moment may be undercutting our most cherished beliefs.” (p. 157)

I’m not sure I think that happens all the time, but it is true that most of the time we don’t know what’s going on in other classrooms. We observe and are observed infrequently—which means we don’t know much about how others teach, but Gerald Graff, who coined “courseocentricism,” is even more concerned that we don’t know what each other is teaching, even when we share the same department and sometimes the same course.

He’s not advocating that we all submit lesson plans, but he does think the varying policies, practices, and procedures across courses is terribly confusing to students. When students ask whether they should use “I” in their papers or whether they should share their ideas or summarize the author’s, it has to be because they get different instructions in different classes. Again, the goal is not for every course to be the same, but all the difference, especially when the rationale for writing in the first person or not summarizing is never discussed, leads students to believe that a really big part of education is figuring out what the teacher wants. Courses are easy once you’ve got the teacher pegged. “We do not appreciate the educational damage that results from teaching in self-isolated classrooms,” Graff writes. (p. 157)

“At a time when our online technologies make amazing new forms of connectivity possible, and when much of our cutting-edge academic research insists on the inherently social and collaborative nature of intellectual work, we still think of teaching in ways that are narrowly private and individualistic. … I do not say this to disparage good individual teaching but to point out that we become better individual teachers the more we can get help from our colleagues and learn enough about one another’s courses to be able to take them as reference points in our own.” (pp. 157-58)

Reference: Graff, G. (2009). Why assessment? Pedagogy, 10 (1), 153-165.

Important Reminder: The deadline for submitting articles to be considered for the Magna and McGraw-Hill Scholarly Work on Teaching Award is January 31. For award details see: www.teachingprofessor.com/conference/teaching-and-learning-award