Thursday, March 03, 2016

How average am I?

Years ago, during my California days, when talking about teaching and students, a colleague--who also moved out of the state--described the challenge this way: we need to target the "average student."  That means there will be students who will be above average, and there will also be students who are below average.  To make things worse, odds are that most faculty were consistently above-average students, which means that we have no idea what it means to be an "average student" leave alone the below-average.

My conclusion has always been one additional step--this is all the more the reason why the factory-style mass education system won't work.  Especially with the growing technological opportunities, customized education ought to be a lot more possible, like how the rich and the powerful in history had their personal tutors.

So, of course, I am always delighted when more important people say stuff that appeals to me.  Like when a Harvard professor, Todd Rose, says this about higher education:
In higher ed we have a brutally standardized system. It doesn't matter what your interests are, what job you want, everyone takes the same courses in roughly the same time and at the end of the course you get ranked.
A brutally standardized system.  A system that even developed the idea of the "average" grade, even when we insiders know all too well that grades are useless!  Especially the grades via the puke-inducing bubbling approach!

To make things worse, we blame students!
our system of judging people according to their deviation from the mean (faster, slower, stronger, weaker) is smothering our talents. The sweeping generalisations of averagarians, as he labels them, cannot but gloss over the multifaceted nature of an individual. The effect is pernicious in the extreme. Schools, for instance, rate pupils largely on their ability to learn faster than the average, and design curriculums to suit the speediest. Yet learning slowly does not preclude a student from ultimately mastering a subject.
So, what can we do?
There's plenty of ways we're making smaller units of learning to combine in ways that are useful to you. To me, competency based education is nonnegotiable. I don't think you can have fixed-time, grade-based learning anymore. I don't see how you justify diplomas.
It doesn't mean students can take forever, but allowing some flexibility in pace and only caring whether they master the material or not is a sound foundation for a higher ed system.
I am all in favor.  Oh wait, who cares about the students, right!

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