Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Stop lecturing me" he says.

Who you gonna believe--a Nobel Laureate or me?

Not a hard question to answer, eh!  I know what you're thinking: who cares for the Nobel winner! ;)

What if the Nobel Prize winner that I am going to quote here essentially says the same things that I have been blogging about for years, and practicing for even longer?  Intrigued?

Carl Wieman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001, writes about "a fundamentally flawed understanding of learning":
Most people, including university faculty and administrators, believe learning happens by a person simply listening to a teacher. That is true if one is learning something very simple, like “Eat the red fruit, not the green one,” but complex learning, including scientific thinking, requires the extended practice and interaction described earlier to literally rewire the brain to take on new capabilities.
See, I told you that a Nobelist and I are on the same metaphorical page.  And, yes, Wieman is the "he" in the title of this post.

Universities continue on with the old, old, idea of lecturing despite all the evidence one would need on why lecturing does very little to student learning when compared to an educational environment in which students are active learners.  Why the heck don't they change?
Part of it is just habit; lectures began at universities because they did not have books, and so information had to be dictated and copied. Teaching methods have not yet adapted to the invention of the printing press.
I tell students all the time that they now have access to information that even the brightest minds of the past could never have imagined. Class meetings are not at all for me to transmit information to students.  Instead, well, let me quote myself here:
I, too, routinely tell students that they don't need to come to classes, and that they don't need to take courses, and that universities aren't warehouses of information. "You've got to think for yourselves" is what I keep emphasizing to them, while reminding them that thanks to the internet they have access to all the information they possibly need, and more. "So, why do you think we have classes?" is a question I often ask students, who perhaps view that as some kind of a trick question.
By now you are thinking, "if that is the case, then why do insist on continuing with some Middle Age practice of lecturing?"  Good question.  The answer is simple.  "There is no incentive."
Faculty and universities are recognized and rewarded only for how successful they are at pursuing the $40 billion a year of federal research money. There is zero incentive to use effective research-based teaching methods rather than pedagogical superstition and habit, and in fact, very few, if any, universities in the U.S. track what teaching methods are being used in their classrooms. As long as this holds true, prospective students have no way to compare the quality of education they will receive at different institutions, and so no institution needs to improve.
No institution needs to improve. So long, suckers!

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