Sunday, May 11, 2014

getting real at the university level...

Crematory urn boxes
The University of Arkansas is graduating students this week. At this point in the graduation game, the U of A is batting 60%, meaning that if a student enters as a freshman, he or she has a 60% probability of reaching graduation within 6 years. The cost of two extra years and the societal cost of not graduating the 40% who have made a significant investment of time and financial resources to their university education, are a black mark on our national system of colleges and universities. Other schools are facing the same dilemma. For example, the University of Indiana, among the top 75 in college rankings, has a 4 year graduation rate of 55%.

To be clear and fair, I am aware that many students in state universities are working their way through college, and that many have jobs and responsibilities that delay graduation.

The U of A has announced a new program intended to boost graduation rates, though it may not be in their best financial interests to do so. If they can keep graduation spaced out to 6 years, that means additional revenue in the form of tuition, and larger class sizes due to students taking extra classes as they switch majors over the generally expected 6 year term.

In any case, we should be watchful of higher education being operated as a racket. We've got administrators throughout education insisting that all students should go to college, but there is a need that higher education get real, just as we must return the hands to learning in the lower schools in order that instruction be to lasting effect.

I will repeat the simplicity of educational Sloyd theory. Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. The hard thing for university administrators to understand after being immersed in endless abstraction is that students need to be engaged in the concrete. Concrete experience forms the touchstone of real learning. Students studying to become teachers should be in the classroom as teachers from day one. Students involved in the study of chemistry, should be involved in real laboratory experiments that have relevance to society and science from day one. Most often students are introduced to various subject areas through artifice. Can it be any great surprise that students may flounder on their way to the graduation procession? Is it any wonder that many of those who do graduate, even within the expected four years, thence choose careers far from their selected disciplines?

Don't expect many changes and improvements to take place. From a moral standpoint, students encumbered with huge debt at the end of 6 years may be of concern to some. From an economic standpoint, the bottom line of school funding, students wasting time in school, spending extra time in classes and extra big bucks for an additional 2 years is no big whoop. They fill classes. And there are others clamoring to take their places at each desk.

You may have heard of flipping classes. That's where students do all their academic style learning out of class and then spend class time doing real things of greater significance than just listening to lectures. It presents a great opportunity for professors to stop repetition of boring lectures and to put the real learning in the hands of kids. I suggest flipping the whole dang university to get the best results. Where students are busy doing real things they have the greatest potential to put the theoretical and abstract into relevance and perspective, and thus find real impetus for subsequent learning.

Readers may find it absurd for a woodworker to make proposals for a complete revolution in university education. But I feel like the child at the sidelines of the emperor's butt naked parade. The man has no clothes, and it seems I'm one of those honest enough to say so.

Today in the wood shop, I'll be applying finish to small products, preparing for my classes at Weekend with Wood in Des Moines and attaching lift tabs to the crematory urn boxes that I started last week.

Make, fix and create...

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