Monday, May 17, 2010

observations on higher education

My daughter Lucy arrived home from Columbia in New York City, now a senior. It is amazing how quickly the first three years have passed. We had a conversation about teaching and teachers in what is considered one of the top schools in the US, and by now Lucy is an expert at what it takes to be a good teacher. Some teachers have it and get it. Some do not. Some make it easy for their students. Some do not.

Most often, teachers in universities are hired without specific preparation for teaching, and much university teaching could be improved by some simple insight from educational sloyd about how materials can be best presented. Four simple rules from educational sloyd:
Move from the easy to the more difficult.
Move from the simple to the complex.
Move from the known to the unknown.
Move from the concrete to the abstract.
I have discussed these earlier in the blog, and if all teachers understood these four principles and particularly the last, education in the US would be vastly improved.

In Lucy's observation, the best teachers present the practical applications for the theoretical early in the lectures, providing motivation for student interest. Some teachers, on the other hand, fail to help students make the connection between theory and application, treating application as an afterthought. Students thus sit through hours of lecture, wondering, "Where in the world is this going, and why is it important to me?" It is actually no surprise to me that there are so many students dropping out from colleges and universities with their educations incomplete. I nearly did so myself. It is also no surprise that so many graduate with degrees unrelated to their ultimate interests and pursuits.

Some of this can be fixed through a renewed understanding of the value of hands-on learning, not just for those not working toward university educations, but for all. In learning one establishes a chain of organizational relevance through action and application. Break that chain, and the student says, "I'm outta here," and even when the will chains the body to home plate, the mind wanders out of the park.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having just retired after 35 years of teaching, I've got to agree with Lucy. She is very perceptive.

Mario