Learning More about Teaching and Learning (Or Lack Thereof)

In assessment of learning, faculty responsibilities, how people learn, institutional responsibilities on February 27, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I have not posted much since the beginning of the semester. It’s been hectic. I am currently traveling, so I have begun reading the book Academically Adrift. Note that this is a long post, so it teachersmay take more than a quick glance.

What I have learned from reading the book so far is disturbing. Some of it I knew but some of it was new. The following are my comments on some of the things I learned and my reactions.

  • I learned that there is an inverse relationship between the number of faculty publications and a faculty orientation toward students.

I knew this intuitively, but the book summarizes studies that suggest that faculty in non-research institutions have become more research-focused. This research focus is at the detriment of focusing on students (and teaching and learning). I believe that is true in my school-we have pushed to encourage faculty to publish. If faculty have a finite amount of time to work and the reward lawbooksstructure has shifted to reward publications instead of good teaching, then teaching must suffer.  The one shining light in our school is that teaching-related publications are accepted now as  quality publications. The benefit of that is that faculty can use the research as a way to improve teaching. It will be interesting to see whether that results in improved student learning.

  • I learned that the higher students’ grades in the course, the more positive the student evaluations.

I have heard this many times before. My response has been that if faculty challenge students in courses, students will rise to challenge and they will improve their performance. I also believed that faculty can have higher student evaluations in courses where they are tougher as long as the grading standards are clear and students know what to expect.  My philosophy had always been that challenging students results in student recognition that they can do the work and student effort to complete the work.  I haven’t read the studies to examine the parameters of the studies cited by the authors of ACADEMICALLY ADRIFT, but their summaries of those studies suggest that inflated grades result from reduced demands on students.

I also have anecdotal evidence that this is true. Adjunct faculty only get re-hired if their student evaluations are equal to department averages. Yet we know that student evaluations are nothing more than student satisfaction studies and student satisfaction doesn’t necessarily translate to student learning.  In a previous post, I discussed the study that concluded that students admit that they lie on student evaluations. And if you look at Harvard’s study on implicit assumptions, one of the things that is apparent is that whether a student “likes” a faculty member could depend on factors unrelated to teaching and learning.

As I read, I resisted this suggestion. I want to believe that high quality teaching and challenging demands result in, at least equivalent student evaluations.

My belief has gone down in flames. I advocate change a great deal, but I was certain that students would recognize the value in challenges and would see that as an important quality in an instructor. Must I accept that this is an incorrect belief? I guess I must really re-examine that, because it seems to be contrary to the evidence.

  • I learned that grade inflation probably exists.

According to the studies referenced in the book, grade inflation is real. It seems that every balloongeneration looks at the previous one and says that the current generation is unprepared. One of the studies referenced by the authors says that student class and study time went from 25 hours per week to 14 hours per week during the past 40 years.  (That includes the time spent in class each week.) This result mean either that the students now are smarter and thus need to study less or there’s something seriously wrong in education that students can earn top grades and yet study only 14 hours per week.

Disturbing. I’ll post more as I read and absorb the information in the book.

  1. […] In an earlier post, I discussed some of the conclusions I reached from the sections of the book which I had read. Those conclusions were: […]

  2. […] do not necessarily translate to good teaching, student evaluations are notoriously unreliable (see my latest post on student evaluations) and peer evaluations are only an indicator of one (or two) colleagues’ attendance at one or […]

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