Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Professor's Rant...

Is college too easy? As study time falls, debate rises. Washington Post.

[Excerpt] "Declining study time is a discomfiting truth about the vaunted U.S. higher-education system. The trend is generating debate over how much students really learn, even as colleges raise tuition every year.

...Academic leaders counter that students are as busy as ever but that their attention is consumed in part by jobs they take to help make ends meet...

...Sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa identified lax study as a key failing of academia in their 2011 report “Academically Adrift,” which found that 36 percent of students made no significant gains in critical-thinking skills in college. Arum’s own research found that students study only 12 hours a week..."

Majia here: College is too easy in too many majors, including the one I teach in.

One factor driving quality education into the gutter is the singular reliance on teaching evaluations as the only measure of teaching quality.

On my teaching evaluations this semester students expressed outrage that I have an attendance policy (on the 5th absence final grade drops one grade unless I approve the absences).

I have an attendance policy because if I don't, many students do not attend regularly because they are truly very busy and most work full time or near full time.

However, if they do not attend class, they do poorly on exams and class assignments and are more likely to fail the class.

I understand students must work more because tuition costs so much more than it used to. I am strongly opposed to these tuition hikes.

However, many students today also expect a higher level of consumption than what I was accustomed to while in college for 10 years (the years it took to get my PhD). Expectations about personal consumption are also driving students to work more.

In general though I understand that students are busy and must work (mostly in low-wage service jobs).

Thus, I am typically accommodating of their need to miss class because of work, but the situation has deteriorated to a point where class has become a perceived impediment to their work (or other endeavors).

Furthermore, as far as I can tell, studying only occurs right before exams for 80% of the students.

Every semester, at least 1 student asks if they "need" to buy the textbook and many admit freely that they never read it.

I choose my textbooks carefully and avoid costly books.

Too many students see reading, especially material that is even slightly challenging, as onerous.

Our visual culture is eroding the practice of engaged learning through reading.

Consequently, 1/2 of my students typically fail my timed, but open-book exams, even while a strong minority receives As.

How can they fail an open-book exam when all the questions are from the book or lectures?

I make all my powerpoint lectures available for students to download.

Yet, students complain if there is "too" much material in the power points, even when that material simply amplifies or illustrates the main points of the lecture.

I really am very frustrated as a teacher by the lack of engagement and the expectation that learning should be a process of easily digestible bits that are spoon-fed to students by the professor in the shortest time frames possible.

So, I agree that critical thinking skills are declining.

However, I am not quite sure how to combat the economic pressures facing students and the culture of passivity that characterizes their attitude about learning.

Not all students fit the profile I've outlined here but I think the majority do.

Education is in crisis but I'm not sure how to fix the problems when they are symptomatic of the wider culture and economy.

1 comment:

  1. When I went to college, I believed the Robert Hutchins stuff about education making students broad-minded, with critical thinking skills, which makes them better citizens. Nobody else believed it even then, and it was a long time ago. People go to college so they can get jobs.