The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

In assessment of learning, Education, faculty responsibilities, information literacy, innovation in teaching, institutional responsibilities, teaching with technology, technology on April 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm

All around us, the world is changing. From digital information everywhere to mashups, the landscape is changing.

Yet in higher education, we’ve been extremely slow to change. Holding to tradition can be beneficial, but educational institutions face a changing landscape that other institutions have faced. Medicine has changed with the advent of digital information. One study concluded that more than half the patients of a primary care internal medicine group used the internet for information, including information they did not share with their doctors (2002). The music industry has changed drastically; purchases of CDs has reduced y 50% with the advent of illegal file sharing and access to purchase individual songs. (See: Music’s Lost Decade) Yet in higher education we teach as though nothing has changed.

Lecturing has its benefits, but there are far more options available to teach. However, institutions and regulatory bodies do not make it easy to change. Classes are structured so that students are expected to spend 150 minutes per week “seat time” in their courses. Any changes to that structure require compliance with University regulations–and under faculty governance that means that the changes must be submitted to several faculty committees to be reviewed. At my institution, such changes generally take a year to progress through committees and sometimes longer. Clearly processes need to be changed to permit “pilots” or fast-paced changes.

In addition, the “a” word (assessment) requires that work must be evaluated to determine its effectiveness. Assessment can be complicated, since different factors may determine whether a technique has been effective. One factor is student effort-and that is difficult to measure. In addition, we tend to focus on short term (semester) but there can be long term implications that are not easily measured.

Why can’t we adopt a process that makes it easy for faculty to test new approaches, with a quick turnaround time and ample assistance to assess effectiveness?

  1. Thanks for this post. I fully agree that faculty need more flexibility to try new things — the senior faculty on my campus tell me that it used to be much easier to arrange team-teaching and other alternative approaches, but now there are so many bureaucratic hurdles, and everyone is so busy, that it’s very difficult. That TEDx talk by Donald Clark is definitely worth watching, and he makes some good points, but like many others he conflates “class flipping” with any expansion of online teaching. Class flipping requires that faculty engage students in relatively small classes, and you can’t do that if your video lectures are being watched by thousands of students.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Mark. It is important that any change in technique focus on how it promotes student learning. Flipped classrooms would only work for problem solving if there are smaller labs or smaller online or face to face groups (lead by TAs?) to help students with problem-solving and application. Flipping the classroom has possibilities, but it’s not the only (or best) solution to improving student learning. It has to be developed in the context of engaging students with the material in different ways.

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