September
28th 2011
(Re-)inventing the educratic wheel

Posted under: American history, students, technoskepticism, unhappy endings, wankers

All new! This time with sparkles!

Do you ever get the impression that there truly is nothing new under the sun in education?  Do you ever think that we end up re-inventing the wheel, year after year?  Well, this American Radio Works documentary “Don’t Lecture Me” won’t disabuse you of those suspicions!

I promise, I sat down Monday night to listen to it with an open mind.  Although it teased me that it would show me how lecturing in college classrooms is a complete waste of time compared to the New! Improved! Revolutionary! way to teach developed by some physicists, I came away with the valuable insight that I’m already doing these things, and I bet you are too.

First of all, did you know that lecturing to your students for 50 or 75 minutes in a monotone voice without permitting any student questions or interaction isn’t the best way to teach your subject?  Amazing.  This is what this program defines as “the traditional college lecture.”  The takeaway point is that there needs to be active learning in the classroom, viz., expecting students to read books outside of class; asking students to write brief responses to their assigned readings in class; asking students to answer questions or solve problems when you are explaining key concepts (or “lecturing”) to them; and asking students to explain key concepts to each other during class.  Did you know that exactly zero percent of college professors in “traditional universities” do this right now?

I’m starting to think that “the traditional college lecture” is, like the “typical professor schedule of working only 6 to 9 hours per week” and the “typical narrow, pointless faculty research agenda” and the “typical six-figure salary for tenured professors,” a myth invoked to trash us and our work with the specific goal of minimizing the importance of having an expert in a field as the instructor of record in most college classes.

Amazingly, no one in this program ever suggests that smaller class sizes and teacher:student ratios might have something to do with learning.  Instead, a physicist at Harvard is described as a veritable pioneer of pedagogy for–hold onto your hats!–using clickers in his large, lecture-hall sized classroom and asking students to “discuss” a problem when there’s some controversy about the right answer and how to go about finding it.  (Those of you who don’t teach at Harvard will probably wonder how effective peer explanations will be at “enhancing” student learning.  I mean no disrespect to most college students–but it seems a little too slam-dunky to set up Harvard undergrads as our test subjects for the effectiveness of peer-to-peer education!  It might be good to try this method at, for example, the University of Massachusetts and Salem State College to test it on a variety of student bodies.  I’m just sayin’! )

This program’s neo-liberal heart becomes crystal-clear when you hear its denigration of research–which everyone knows makes all professors unavailable to students and does nothing whatsoever to enhance their teaching.  Its glowing portrait of the University of Minnesota, Rochester is quite telling:

There are no lecture halls at the University of Minnesota Rochester. There are also no fraternities, no football team, not even a library – everything is online. If you want a book you can order it from one of the other U of M campuses, but only professors request them. Students get all the information they need through their laptops. There are about 100 freshmen and 35 sophomores. The plan is to expand the size of the class each year until there are about 1,000 students.

UMR does have a campus. To get there you enter a downtown shopping mall and take an elevator up. Most of the campus fits into the top two floors of the mall, where a food court and a movie theater used to be. The space has been renovated into offices, a commons area, a tutoring center and state-of-the-art classrooms.

UMR takes classroom design seriously. There is no “front of the room” as there is in a typical lecture hall.

“We removed the front so that we would move away from having one authority who disseminates knowledge,” says vice chancellor Claudia Neuhauser. The goal is to put the focus “much more on the students,” she says.

To see this philosophy in action, I visit a biology class. It starts with an assignment. The students have to write a multiple choice question based on the material they’ve been learning.

“You know you understand something when you can teach somebody else,” says the professor, Kesley Metzger. “So if a student can’t write a question, then it gives them an idea that they don’t fully understand the material.”

The students work in small groups to write the questions. All the furniture is on wheels to allow students to work together like this. Each group has a portable dry-erase board that students use to compose their questions. When they’re done, they hang their boards on the wall so the rest of the class can see.

What a relief to know that there’s nothing in books these students can use, and how little research they’ll be required to do, what with no library!  The new classroom space sounds terrific and probably does permit more innovation in teaching–and lord knows, many of us are stuck with classrooms designed in the 1950s and 1960s.  (And of course I’m completely down with doing away with the free farm club sports teams and fraternities.)  But what’s this about the pointlessness of old-school lecturing?

Professor Metzger stops the class at various points to give explanations of certain topics or ideas, but for most of the class the students are doing the talking, responding to assignments designed to get them thinking and talking about the material they are learning.

All of the classes at UMR are designed to work like this.

“There may be a brief lecture at the beginning,” says chancellor Lehmkuhle, “but then [students] are given problems and they’re working on things together as teams.”

Oh–so there’s still lecturing, but it’s interspersed with stuff the rest of us do, too, in our 1950s and 60s classrooms.  What’s the real goal of this model of higher education?

Metzger circulates around the room throughout class, answering questions and probing students’ understanding. She’s assisted by her co-instructor Andy Petzold. There are 48 students, and the instructors get to all of them during the hour and 40 minute class. Chancellor Lehmkuhle says this model is designed to work in classes with up to 100 students and he expects some classes at UMR will eventually be that size.

“It’s not the size of the class, it’s the contact with the students. That’s what we’re paying attention to,” he says. “You could have a class with 10 students and if the faculty member just lectures and doesn’t really interact with you very much it’s not any different than if you were in a class of 200 students. It’s how interactive you can make the environment.”

Yeah–all of those 10-person seminars with a faculty member who “doesn’t really interact” with the students are complete drags.  Professor Pushbutton to the rescue!

There are also two types of professors at UMR. One group’s only responsibility is to work with students; they’re called “student-based” faculty and they’re not expected to do any research.

Andy Petzold is a student-based faculty member. When he’s not teaching classes, he works in UMR’s tutoring center, which is like a walk-in clinic where students can get help at any time during the day. Petzold says he may eventually pursue a more traditional faculty position, but this job is an opportunity to learn about teaching that he wouldn’t get at other universities.

The other group of professors is called “learning design” faculty. They are expected to do research not just in their discipline but in education as well.

“They’re actually tenured and promoted on their ability to do research on the learning of their students,” says chancellor Lehmkuhle.

That means for example that a biologist has to do research on how people learn – not something biologists traditionally do. But UMR is all about breaking traditions. Perhaps not surprisingly, almost all of the professors here are relatively young; it’s their first or second job out of graduate school. They came to UMR because they want to be part of a new way of doing things.

Actually, my guess is that “they came to UMR because” UMR offered them a job.  And if they never had tenure or a tenure-track job, they’ll never know what they’re missing, will they?

I can’t imagine being expected to to “do research not just in [my] discipline but in education as well.”  Then again, how hard can it be, when we already know pretty much how to design a wheel?  (Add sparkles?  Playing cards in the spokes?  A bell that sounds like a kitty mewing?)  We can laugh–but really, the charlatanism inherent in these hinky schemes should make us cry.  I’m with Jonathan Rees–let’s all take a page out of Lydia Pinkham’s or Madame C.J. Walker’s book and slap a new and improved label on what we’ve been doing all along.  Because, in spite of the limited time and resources the vast majority of us have been struggling with for the past several years, it’s what still works.

35 Comments »

35 Responses to “(Re-)inventing the educratic wheel”

  1. sophylou on 28 Sep 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Do you ever get the feeling that these people are drawing on their own college experiences XYZ years ago? Because lately I’ve been starting to think that that’s the default people go to when they talk about education: they flash back to their own, rather than paying any attention to what’s actually going on in education *now.*

  2. Historiann on 28 Sep 2011 at 8:34 am #

    I think that’s part of the problem–but I seriously doubt that *every single class* they took 20 or 30 or 40 years ago was an uninterruptable monotone lecture of 50-75 minutes in duration.

    The ideological bias of this program is pretty clear: they want to believe that education can be done Better! Faster! and most importantly, Cheaper! if we just use technology correctly and get rid of most of the experts. It’s the Bain Capital/Boston Consulting Group/management consulting model applied to higher ed: clear out the major “cost centers” and automate or ship to India or China the other jobs.

    The unspoken assumption behind all of this horse$hit is that education should be a *profit center* or at least pay its own way, and it should no longer be a non-profit social investment. Hell, they’re doing it to the Postal Service–why not universities? Everyone in the country likes and appreciates at least their own mail carrier, right? Whereas most people don’t know a college professor, let alone know anything about our work. (That’s not their fault–I’m just pointing out that we have a much less obvious usefulness to most people than U.S.P.S. mail carriers!)

  3. mandor on 28 Sep 2011 at 8:43 am #

    That biology classroom group work sounds an awful lot like the average discussion section I used to run as a TA. Hopefully these newly minted instructors are getting paid more than TA wages.

  4. Tony Grafton on 28 Sep 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Gee whillikers, why do you keep resisting our new insect overlords? I for one am perfectly prepared to go over to the new order and stop giving those nonstop lectures in my 12-person, 3 hour seminars . . .

  5. quixote on 28 Sep 2011 at 10:18 am #

    Wow. Breakthrough. And if you could improve it until the system is totally student-centered, the students would do all the talking, and you wouldn’t have to pay anybody anything.

    Au contraire, they’d be paying you tuition.

    Whee!

  6. Ruth on 28 Sep 2011 at 10:18 am #

    The UM at Rochester offers BAs only in nursing and related health professions, not in the liberal arts & sciences. They do offer some liberal arts courses, many of them by distance learning (the academic departments have little say in who teaches those courses or how). Several years ago when I was DGS on the Twin Cities campus tried to hire one of our grad students to teach a section in Rochester of a course ze was already teaching up here–for a fraction of the pay.

  7. Anonymous on 28 Sep 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Wait, monotones are out now? I just can’t keep up with what’s trendy anymore.

    I’ll have to remember to plagiarize that last line for my next job application: I want to come to Mediocre U so I can be a part of a new way of doing things! So precious.

  8. Perpetua on 28 Sep 2011 at 11:50 am #

    I think I have a tendency to lecture for 50 minute blocks in my designated lecture classes (large classes 60+ with discussion sections). I often think I should do a better job of integrating student interactions. I know people who have wonderful skills at getting discussions going in large lectures. That said, I also think that there’s a place for lecture. I work in an area that is completely foreign to most students, in which they have zero background. I would love to live in sparkleponyland where the students came to a 100 person class having done 200 pages of reading (the background reading they would need so I wouldn’t have to lecture about concepts/key figures), but I can barely get my seminar students to do their reading. Part of student-centered learning is having students who view themselves as participants in their own educations rather than passive recipients.

  9. Indyanna on 28 Sep 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    This would have been a great curriculum for Oxford, if Oliver Cromwell had lived another forty or fifty years and worked his way down his alphabetical “to-do-when-we-get-to-London” list to “Pedagogy.” Leaving the “front” off the classroom (and the building?) as a concrete semiotic for what the Board of Regents is thinking about on this important subject is the most brilliant part of the action plan. How about having some of these knowledge-professors do some research on the econometrics of just not having any provosts, as a front-end way of doubling down on this program. “Doing research on the learning of their students” sounds like a gigantic “human subjects” disaster waiting to happen. Unless they let the maintenance staff head up the IRB.

    Ditto to Perpetua on all of these points. The whole mythic distinction between “active” and “passive” learning, if we could dig our way down through the manure pile of overwrought citations to it, would turn out to be a 49-page Ed.D thesis done at the high school of which the author was associate superintendent–back in 1949 sometime. In the end, we teach less to the test, or even the tool, but rather to the building and to the registration situation.

  10. Historiann on 28 Sep 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    “In the end, we teach less to the test, or even the tool, but rather to the building and to the registration situation.” Yes, well said, although I would add (pace Perpetua’s comment) the level of preparation we can expect of our students.

    However, we’re in control of the ways we evaluate students, and in intro classes especially, I think part of the work we’re doing is teaching them how to do college successfully. Making students write two paragraphs in class is a good way of enforcing the importance of doing reading assignments before class. Ditto with asking them to submit short precis when they first enter the classroom.

    If you grade it, they will come having done the reading!

  11. Indyanna on 28 Sep 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    I should have added that we also spend useful face-time keeping the bee-allergic students separated from the bees that fly in and out the stuck-open windows during the warm months (don’t ask about the winter). There’s not much you can do about the Pepsi guy who leaves his huge truck idling behind the back row while he slams cans into the vending machine next to the class door. (Vendors are total-stakeholders here). Or the mowers and leaf-suckers who motor back and forth on the grass strip near the class, or the maintenance crews who back their vehicles with the OSHA beepers for fifty straight minutes. But it’s all teachable, and maybe we could get some of them to guest-lec… I mean facilitate!

  12. Philosopher Queen on 28 Sep 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    I teach at an institution that values teaching-based “research” more than discipline-based research, and from my experience, part of the problem is that Ed programs have somehow convinced administrators that CONTENT DOESN’T MATTER. All that matter is pedagogy, which has nothing to do with the material you’re actually trying to teach. Which is all part of devaluing the arts and humanities, of course…

  13. Nicoleandmaggie on 28 Sep 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    *sigh*

  14. Historiann on 28 Sep 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    Philosopher Queen: I am so sorry to hear about this.

    What, I wonder, does teaching without attention to content look and feel like? I can’t even begin to imagine. Do they really imagine that we can all teach perfectly effectively based on research in my field (or any field) as it stood in 1970, or 1990, or 1880, or 1750?

  15. Janice on 28 Sep 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Wow. It’s good to know that you can write an article entirely based on spin and prejudice and get it published. If some Harvard physicists tell you that it’s new and revolutionary teaching, it surely must be unprecedented!

    I’ve read about the Rochester campus before. As Ruth noted, they have a very idiosyncratic curriculum. It’s not just that it’s a specific group of STEM courses, it’s also that they do fewer courses at a time in a compressed curriculum.

    It’s an interesting model for some forms of mastery but I’m working to get students to learn how to read thoughtfully, write analytically and develop other skills that require, oh, old-fashioned tools such as books as well as online library interfaces.

    Cynically, I wonder how much it costs to have two full-time faculty types in each classroom of 48 students. I bet you they’ll find that model not so perfectly simple to scale up with a hundred students even with the same amount of personnel.

  16. sophylou on 28 Sep 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    I’ve experienced a variant of “pedagogy over content” in librarianing too, with the focus on searching skills etc. over content. I feel caught in the middle sometimes, because as a subject librarian I teach sessions for students in the discipline my PhD is in (history), and I hope/believe that my content knowledge and my ability to link research skills to content benefits the students. It makes me blink when colleagues imply that I should focus more on searching and other more generic skills and let the content slide a little. I have a hard time separating the skills from the content.

  17. Matt_L on 28 Sep 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    RE: U of MN Rochester – That whole thing is a political sop: primarily to Mayo (hence the focus on STEM and nursing stuff). Its all about prestige. RCTC teaches a lot of the same subjects and there is a satellite campus from one of the state universities that offers BA’s in the health fields. The Rochester City Fathers and Mayo thought the state owed them a full on U of MN campus, not some rinky dink MNSCU school. So Governor Pawlenty, in anticipation of the most awesome presidential bid ever, gave it to them.

    To be fair, Rochester boosters have been pushing this agenda hard and for a long time, so their persistence has paid off. But its not like that school was opened to tap into a huge pool of students. The Doctors send their kids to SLACs and everyone else is trying to get their kids into the other U of MN campuses like UMD and U of MN twin cities. Don’t expect UMR to ever ‘scale up.’ Its never going to leave the mall.

  18. Historiann on 28 Sep 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    My feeling about UMR from this Radio Works program is that it’s an online campus that for now has classroom meetings in person. The whole thing feels like something that they could turn over to Kaplan or Phoenix any time they wanted to.

    This is too bad. I would have thought that the Mayo people would see the value of teaching critical thinking and research skills rather than cheaping out like this. Chancellor Lehmkule is exactly the kind of useless management type that smart docs don’t see any need for in their own organizations–so why would they think that they’re useful in universities? (Then again, I think Mayo’s model is pretty top-heavy with management types instead of medical types, so I may have just answered my own question. And this branch campus sure seems like something dreamed up by neo-liberal educrats!)

  19. Indyanna on 28 Sep 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    To say that this this educrat online romance-trance is going over the top is to repeat the obvious, but in my town the local school district has bought a license/platform from a vendor that will let students come to the high school and sit in one set of rooms while taking “distance” courses from instructors in another set of rooms in the same building! This is being done to try to recapture some defecting families who have taken their kids to nearby districts which are using the same model and which by doing so have been designated “cyber” schools. This is about big money, of course, both the recapture of the lost revenue from the defectors if they can be pretty-pleased into returning, and money on the “feed the vendors” side. Plus you get your name in the newspaper if your on the local board. To listen to these buffoons going on about whether to stop there or to try to raid neighboring districts for some migratory dollars of their own is to think the “Babbitt” era was some kind of golden age. It even makes the birch rod era seem pretty high-minded.

  20. Susan on 28 Sep 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    We have a library of the “future”, and the historians routinely annoy the librarians by wanting *actual* books. And it turns out that not everything is available as an ebook. So they do buy them for us. (Last year, a librarian complained to a colleague about the way historians seemed wedded to the codex. It’s sad, but true.)

    I had a few professors as an undergrad who really were dynamic lecturers, who lectured for a 50 minute stretch and were fascinating. I learned a lot from them. No monotones, of course, but not much interaction….

  21. LadyProf on 28 Sep 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    The part of this flam-flam that puzzles me is requiring research in one’s discipline + education thereof to get tenure. “That means for example that a biologist has to do research on how people learn–not something biologists traditionally do.” Oooh-kay, but to what standard is this work held, and who reads it to find out whether it is good enough? Biologists? But they have no clue, right? Education scholars? Educrats? Maybe UMR lets the students cover peer review.

  22. Tenured Radical on 29 Sep 2011 at 3:12 am #

    (Sound of Tenured Radical banging head on wall.)

  23. Historiann on 29 Sep 2011 at 7:57 am #

    LadyProf: AHAHAhahahaha! Perfect.

    Tenured Radical: resume head-banging.

  24. Frowner on 29 Sep 2011 at 8:05 am #

    I must have been the weirdest student ever, because I liked good lectures – we call them “talks” when we attend them at the film society, or the science fiction convention, or the political activist stuff I do in my post-student life. No one suggests that – for example – science fiction fans are incapable of sitting still for an hour to hear Samuel Delany discuss his work, or that activists don’t want to hear someone from the Chilean student movement describe her work. It’s pervasive American anti-intellectualism here, with the idea that anything that is formally designated as learning must be boring and a waste of time. (Consider that everyone lined up to get into Jacques Lacan’s lectures, or Foucault’s – and if you’d suggested to Lacan that he foster “student discussion” because it was a better learning tool, you would have been laughed right out of le seminar room.)

    In fact, although in my political work I find small group discussion productive (since everyone wants to be there and since we all have some background knowledge to bring to the conversation) many of the “discussions” of my student days were the ignorant talking to each other and pretending that the result was knowledge, while most of the students tried to conceal the fact that they hadn’t done the reading. Give me David Roediger – an absolutely sterling lecturer – or even my good old Asian studies prof at Small Liberal Arts College, who wasn’t so bad himself – any day. The idea that serious students can’t sit still and pay attention for an hour – !

    Now, I’m perfectly happy with discussion and group work if it’s aggressively managed by someone with the skills to make it work, and if the classroom climate is such that students do the reading. But if I want to have a bull session about the meaning of life with anecdote instead of data, I can do that back at the dorm.

  25. Historiann on 29 Sep 2011 at 8:26 am #

    “But if I want to have a bull session about the meaning of life with anecdote instead of data, I can do that back at the dorm.”

    Agreed. Maybe it’s because I teach women’s history, but I’m vigilant about keeping class discussions on the historical material rather than welcoming conversations about “feelings” or personal experiences in the 21st century. Class discussions have to be guided thoughtfully and focused on the topic at hand. I sometimes ask students to come up with some answers to a particular question on their own or in group work before convening a discussion amongst the class as a whole. I’m sure that there’s some time wastage by some of them, but there’s no guarantee that when I deliver my brilliant, interactive, well thought-out, and thoughtfully illustrated lectures* that they’re not letting their minds wander or engaging in timewasting instead of listening and learning.

    *(sarcasm).

  26. Indyanna on 29 Sep 2011 at 10:19 am #

    One of my favorite parts of this particular front in the educrat culture war (and make no mistake, it is a culture war) is the one used to lead off the transcript version of this documentary. But it’s been around before in other fora: “College students spend a lot of time listening to lectures. At least until Guttenburg, the only valid approach to education was the lecture. But experts say the lecture has outlived its usefulness… Research shows… [add your vapid preference here].” (The flat assertion that “research shows” is the Spanish dubloon of the mercantilist empire of the edocracy. Never “this study found,” or “as someone concluded,” but just that “research shows.”

    Anyway, this whole position sort of orphans or even delegitimizes the entire *Chatauqua* movement of the nineteenth century, which thrived even as literacy rates shot up, printing costs tumbled, and the country was wired together with copper to transmit news and images everywhere overnight. It makes the tens of thousands of bourgeois people who hitched up the wagon and drove into towns to hear Mark Twain, or whoever, into nostalgic flannel-wrapped analogues to their Populist neighbors, who dumped farm commodities into the creek in a DOOMED effort to hike prices so they could save up to buy flatscreen monitors. Fishing around in the deep past for isolated generalizations that support their “best practice” regimes, the ‘crats leave whole continents of persistence and change out of the picture.

    Good God! The night watchman just called to report that my whole tray of fruitflies died down at my makeshift lab in the library carrel!!! Now I’m going to have to start my experiment on wing length and mate selection all over again…

  27. Beth on 29 Sep 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    Listened to the documentary the other night–though I agree that the techniques they offer as alternatives to the “traditional lecture” are hardly new/improved/sparkly from the perspective of most humanities professors, I wonder if it’s a different story in the sciences. My undergrad degree is in astrophysics (I teach history now), and I sat through hours and hours of straight lectures during which there was barely an opportunity to ask questions (some professors did this well, and their lectures didn’t make you want to cry, but others spoke in a monotone directly to the chalkboard). That was ten years ago, but still…

  28. Western Dave on 29 Sep 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    I’m of a couple of different minds here. 1st, shame on the story writers for overselling how much of this campus is new and different: a seminar room doesn’t have a front, the discussion section/lab has been around for a long time, and new technologies have been integrated into teaching ever since Plato wrote down Socrates’ dialogues. Yes, a lot of it was old wine in new bottles. But, Historiann readers, some of you are piling on just a little much. Why would a new campus invest in a library when you can ILL from satellite campuses and 90%+ of what your undergrads need are available on-line. I mean JSTOR and other electronic databases are a freakin’ godsend to my K-12. We can actually give our students the resources that are close to those of a small college library. (The Lower and Middle school libraries still buy plenty of books, and the Upper School can buy a little more judiciously and have actually expanded our fiction buying.) And what’s with the disdain for discussion sections? Historiann pointed out that what the piece took for good teaching, a lot of you already do, but that quickly disappeared as folks piled on about how sucky undergraduates are. Perpetua and Historiann clearly hold their students accountable and they know it’s a ton of hard work to run a good active classroom (or whatever the slang is these days). But let’s face it, if you want to get good at history (or biology or whatever), you don’t do it by sitting and listening to some else talk about it – you do it. You hypothesize, read some primary sources, have some folks model the right way to do it, and tell you you are screwing it up when you’re doing it wrong. And you do that a lot, not just three times a term (assuming a midterm, term paper, final model). Yes the hype was overblown, but the disdain for what the actual institution does is a little too fierce for my taste. And remember, if all you do is lecture, someday, a better lecturer than you will be available on-line on You Tube for free. Yes, the all skills, no content people are stupid. But that doesn’t mean all content, no skills is a smart path either.

  29. History Prof on 30 Sep 2011 at 5:01 am #

    HISTORY of CLICKERS

    Interesting that you mention trying out the Clickers at someplace like the University of Massachusetts in addition to Harvard. They were actually INVENTED at UMASS and have been in use there for almost a decade. Called “Personal Response Systems” they are updated every 3-4 years, costing students an additional $30 or so to take a class and have their reaction ‘recorded.’

    I find I can save my students that money by asking them to do something radical like raise their hands in class and speak. Of course, it means I have to make lecture “interactive enough” that they will feel comfortable doing so but I find with a little work, my students prefer the “Free Personal Response Systems” connected to their arms to shelling out money every couple of years for a new clicker.

  30. Historiann on 30 Sep 2011 at 6:12 am #

    Thanks for that intel, History Prof. How funny! I guess my point was that peer education may be limited by the quality of the peers available.

    Incidentally, I agree with your point that clickers are an expensive geewgaw meant to fool ourselves that we’re not teaching ridiculously large classes.

  31. Western Dave on 30 Sep 2011 at 6:45 am #

    Clickers do have some value when seeking anonymity of responses, although why that would be necessary in 99% of college classes is beyond me. Plus, charging for clickers? blech.

  32. Dr. Crazy on 30 Sep 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Western Dave writes: “But, Historiann readers, some of you are piling on just a little much. Why would a new campus invest in a library when you can ILL from satellite campuses and 90%+ of what your undergrads need are available on-line. I mean JSTOR and other electronic databases are a freakin’ godsend to my K-12. We can actually give our students the resources that are close to those of a small college library. (The Lower and Middle school libraries still buy plenty of books, and the Upper School can buy a little more judiciously and have actually expanded our fiction buying.)”

    I really think that this depends a lot on the access of the individual college/university. Depending on where one teaches, one doesn’t necessarily have reliable database access, let alone good ILL. And I’ve heard tell of some institutions that charge for ILL borrowing on a per-item basis, both for students and for faculty. It sounds like you have a great situation in your K-12, but it is not at all the case that this great situation exists at all college campuses that are gutting their library funding along with everything else.

  33. Western Dave on 01 Oct 2011 at 11:14 am #

    Dr. Crazy,
    I believe you. But there isn’t evidence that this is the case here. If I were starting a school from scratch (a la Tim Burke) I probably would try to do an all digital library and settle for a decentered library where texts were scattered around the campus in mini-borrowing centers. I’d try to spend the cost savings on actual librarians who would be tasked with teaching folks (faculty and students) about the latest resources. Of course, that’s colored by the fact that right now, I’m trying to learn GIS web-based applications, but I could really use some help.

  34. LouMac on 04 Oct 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Agree with all you say, Historiann, and did you notice the eversoimportant detail, slipped in almost as an aside, that this Harvard professor has an army of TAs to manage his techno bells and whistles, evaluate student reading responses, help answer questions they ask online, etc.? No wonder he can pass as an innovator – he may have a sexy interface, but TAs are doing the actual teaching, which is still apparently (surprise!) required.

    I hate to respond to Actual Pedagogical Research with anecdote (well, I don’t hate to at all, really), but my students, who are certainly not Harvard level bless their souls, almost universally resent learning from each other. I don’t blame them. They or their families pay to hear a professor, not the most opinionated or confident of their peers, and mostly feel like activity- or student-based learning is cheating them.

  35. Historiann on 04 Oct 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    LouMac: this is what I’ve gotten too from students at my big Aggie. On the one hand, it’s flattering to think that expertise is still important to some folks, but on the other I think it can be a component of theory of the student experience as essentially passive note-taking and regurgitation on tests. The way I split the difference here is by being a professor who’s very actively involved herself, and who also isn’t afraid to call on students and otherwise demand interaction/active participation.

    (And I think my comment above about Harvard students was more about the quality of one’s peers rather than the availability of graduate labor! But that’s a really good point–one that I *should* have made myself, so I fully endorse it.)