Higher Ed Pieces that should make you think

I’ve read a lot of stimulating debates over HigherEd in the last few days, so I’ve gone back and patched together bits of various posts with links you should read.

To begin, there’s some new stuff here:

Two columns from a while back on the once-again hot topic of handwriting vs laptops (I have some provocative thoughts on that, but I’ll probably continue to meditate for a while): Fred Barbash, April 2014, “Why students using laptops learn less in class even when they really are taking notes,” and Maria Konnikova, June 2014, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.” Plenty of important links. Neither article can be dismissed as trendy, Luddite fluff, whatever your politics may be. Simply put, the science presented here cannot be wished away.

May 9, 2015, “I Will Not Be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching.” Great column by Kevin Gannon. Professors matter in the classroom. This 2014 CHE article by Dan Berrett is off base for many reasons, primarily a) it’s incorrect, and b) what parts of it are correct have been happening for some time, and aren’t new.

On lectures, from May 2014:

“Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too.”  Which statement becomes contextualized in the article when you realize that a) they’re talking about STEM classes, and b) they’re not talking about doing away with the lecture (which, given budgetary constraints, isn’t going to happen for a while), but instead incorporating “active learning techniques” into the lecture format. Personally, this hand-wringing over lectures is annoying, and getting old. I already use  these “dynamic” techniques in my lectures, which by all student accounts achieve exactly what these studies say you can’t achieve in this format. Yes, Bligh’s 2000 “What’s the Use of Lectures?” lays out how they can’t promote critical thinking or influence behavior, and if it’s simply a professor reading his/her notes of course that’s the case. But that’s not how good teachers lecture to begin with.  And for every study that disses the lecture, one can always reply with the 2010 Harvard study that declared the lecture a fine tool for enhancing student performance. Not surprisingly, most SoTL folks don’t like referencing that study…

On lectures again, February 2014:

“Let’s Scramble, Not Flip, the Classroom,” by Pamela E. Barnett. We shouldn’t make every class a discussion-based, interactive format.  Lecture has a place as well.  Good to hear that–there is a tendency among pedagogy folks (including SoTL enthusiasts, I’ve sensed) to roll the eyes at the thought that lecture could be an effective teaching/learning tool.  Given that a lot of schools do not have the luxury of making every section a seminar-sized one, I’m glad there’s recently been a push to show that lectures are effective learning tools.

Thoughtful article, “There Is No Demand for Higher Education.” Key quote toward the start of the article, about the assumption that there is a huge demand for education (and hence the need for MOOCs, etc.):

[T]he more I think about MOOCs and consider the nature of this demand, the more I come to believe that there is no inherent demand for education, and definitely not for the education they’re peddling as a possible substitute for the traditional system of higher education.

Because the demand isn’t for education, per se. It’s for what we believe education can provide: a secure, stable life. This narrative may not even be true, as Freddie DeBoer argues in a recent post, but we cling to it anyway, because what choice do we have? If we instead believed that painting ourselves purple from head to toe had the same effect, we’d all be walking around looking like Barney the dinosaur.


2 Replies to “Higher Ed Pieces that should make you think”

  1. I always the handwriting-vs-typing thing very interesting for notes, but what I keep coming back to is the basic problem of teaching students to take notes in the first place. I work with sophomores and juniors, and generally on the assumption that they have already learned HOW to take notes, but several things come to my mind on that:
    1. Note-taking should evolve as you evolve as a student; the way you take notes in middle school, then high school, then college should evolve as you become a more experienced learner. But this likely means that at multiple points through K-12 and college Ed, students should be given lessons in effective note-taking.

    2. Along with that, I’ m not convinced most of our students ever get good teaching on how to integrate technology into thief note taking. I don’t think most schools and teachers have stepped back to think about how to guide the younger generation into technology use: we assume that since they grew up with it, they already have the know-how, but this is not true. We know how to do the things that we HAVE to do to get through the day, the course, etc. we need to teach students proactively how to incorporate their laptop use into their note-taking so that they do not begin with the presumption of transcribing, then help them develop effective study techniques beyond just re reading their notes, which is not effective in the first place.

    1. I completely agree. I was surprised to read discussions among academics supporting the handwriting thing, or notes in general, and claiming that re-reading them several times is *clearly* the best way of studying, when tons of scientific research shows that it’s not.

      And everyone seems to be overlooking what you’re talking about, the fact that you really can’t separate secondary from primary education. We assume that “kids” should know x, y, and z, when they show up in college classrooms, and don’t much concern ourselves with K-12, unless we do the AP reading gig.

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