Author Topic: "It's time to prioritize what students want and need over what we want to teach"  (Read 2115 times)

mythbuster

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We all applaud Morris Zapp for being honest. BUT, how often are we even allowed to be so truly honest with our students?
     Like many of us, I work at an institution where the average student will not be a doctor, or a lawyer. But heaven forbid that I actually point this fact out to the students failing my Bio101 course! That is the fastest way I know to have student complaints being send directly to the president and real career issues even if you are tenured. You can't possibly crush Suzy Snowflake's dream of being a pediatric oncologist! And it's always some advanced level doctor that they want to be. No matter she doesn't understand the difference between a bacterial and a human cell and cant multiply by powers of 10 without a calculator.
   So until we are all honest with everyone about the need for more MATH, and the need for more rigor at K-12, and honestly assessing everyone's ability; people will still be unsatisfied that college did not magically provide the dream job right out of graduation.
   

tuxthepenguin

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Here's a challenge for forumites: What courses would you consider highly important which are NOT from your own discipline? In other words, what do you think is worth having even if it won't preserve your job or the jobs of your colleagues?

Composition and speech. Communication skills are critical, and in addition these courses promote deep thinking and reflection. Personal finance. European and US history courses covering the last 3000 or so years. I'm being specific because those are the ones someone in the US needs. Something related to computing, the internet, and online privacy. Time and project management. Mental health. In our modern world, any college educated person should know these subjects - not the latest Javascript framework.

We all applaud Morris Zapp for being honest. BUT, how often are we even allowed to be so truly honest with our students?
     Like many of us, I work at an institution where the average student will not be a doctor, or a lawyer. But heaven forbid that I actually point this fact out to the students failing my Bio101 course! That is the fastest way I know to have student complaints being send directly to the president and real career issues even if you are tenured. You can't possibly crush Suzy Snowflake's dream of being a pediatric oncologist! And it's always some advanced level doctor that they want to be. No matter she doesn't understand the difference between a bacterial and a human cell and cant multiply by powers of 10 without a calculator.
   So until we are all honest with everyone about the need for more MATH, and the need for more rigor at K-12, and honestly assessing everyone's ability; people will still be unsatisfied that college did not magically provide the dream job right out of graduation.
   

You shouldn't be crushing their hopes IMO.

mythbuster

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Tux, would you say the same about a student who dreams of pitching in the majors, but can't get a ball going faster than 35mph? That's the level of discussion I'm talking about.

spork

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[. . .]

You shouldn't be crushing their hopes IMO.

In many if not most cases, not attempting to stop their delusional thinking means the students take 15-60 credits worth of courses that they get Cs and Ds in, because they simply aren't capable of learning the material, and then either 1) graduate with a meaningless degree in (for example) biology and are unable to get a job that requires functional proficiency in biology (or even requires a bachelor's degree), 2) finally get the message that the delusion ain't becoming reality and graduate with a mish-mash of courses that qualifies them for a degree in (for example) liberal studies, still with a terrible academic record and the post-graduation outcome of (1), or they get frustrated and drop out, without a degree but heavily in debt.

Caracal

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The larger point is that most of the tangible value of a college degree has always been the credential.

No, rather the reverse. In the 17th century, Latin and Greek were real essential skills for certain professions. Isaac Newton's "Principia" ,like many other scientific documents, was written in Latin. Catholic masses were conducted in Latin until the 1960's or so, I believe. (Anyone able to confirm/deny that?)

Newton was an academic. I mean my college experience is directly relevant to my job too, but that isn't the the norm.

mahagonny

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If the whole system collapsed, and it was redesigned from the ground up for a 21st century population, it would undoubtedly look much different than it does now, because it wouldn't be driven by job-preservation for those employed in the system.


As long as any group of people becomes identified as 'the truth' (torch bearers for academic freedom; sorry, members only) funny stuff can happen, like others being being sacrificed.
« Last Edit: October 08, 2019, 06:49:06 PM by mahagonny »

polly_mer

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Here's a challenge for forumites: What courses would you consider highly important which are NOT from your own discipline? In other words, what do you think is worth having even if it won't preserve your job or the jobs of your colleagues?

This is the wrong question.  The human knowledge and skills I consider highly important are better done for years at the K-12 level so people can specialize during tertiary education.

Story time:

I studied two languages in high school and have used both of them in conversation and reading in the past month.  I currently live where one of those languages is spoken and written almost as frequently as English in the community.  One thing Caracal didn't mention is how hard reading up on a topic can be when the relevant material is not in a language one reads.  In the past year, I've had to work with a translator to get a crucial publication translated into a language I do read to do my technical work.  This is not the first time that the by-guess-and-by-golly lore around an article turns out to be askew because people cite cherry-picked summaries of summaries instead of going back to the original article in the non-English version.

A couple college-level classes will not provide the language proficiency that starting from an early age and using the language as a normal part of life will.  However, that is the proficiency that enhances people's lives and lets them delve deeper into what's truly going on in the world.  That proficiency often comes with additional cultural proficiency so that one can use critical thinking to see what's really a "law" of human nature and what's an artifact of a specific localized way of doing things.

I studied music in K-12 and spent years playing various instruments; I was often part of the orchestra for the school musicals as well as marching band.  I don't have the time any more to keep up the music as a hobby to be good enough that I can stand to listen to myself.  However, in the past week, I paid money to attend a dance show for a culture that isn't mine with songs in a language I don't speak and I had a great time.  I've put next year's show on my calendar already.  In K-8, I was in every school play that was offered.  This week, I also attended a play and had a great time. 

However, I took no performing arts or music classes of any kind in college, although I did attend shows of various types.  Again, taking a mandatory class or two in college is not at all the same as having years of performing arts being part of one's life.  My K-8 experience required doing art with lessons on perspective, color, and a whole host of other things I've forgotten along with various techniques.  The only positive memory I have from that is the joy of using acid to etch a mirror after about 10 iterations on a pattern because I was informed that my pattern was unacceptable due to lack of artistic vision.  At one point in my adult life, I would visit art museums every time I traveled to a city big enough for that afternoon to be worthwhile, but I've stopped now because doing that was not nearly as rewarding to me as visiting a local bookstore.

In the past week, I have been so far off the grid that we had to use paper maps and then wore my hard hat, steel-toed boots, and a belt with an emergency respirator in case something went wrong down hole in the mine during our visit.  I came home to the joy of a new bookcase because we keep buying books and have literal tons in the house.  We have had a formal library with card catalog and non-fiction shelved by Dewey decimal number in our dwellings for more than 20 years because we have so many books.  I average reading about 5 books per week all the way through with additional targeted non-fiction reading to support my interests in the bigger world as well as my technical work.  Going places with a partially empty suitcase so I can acquire books while I'm on travel is par for the course.

Again, I'm hard pressed to see how three fabulous college-level classes in the humanities will bring someone up to that level of bookwormness and desire to learn about the world.  Instead, years at K-12 showing people the joy and helping them incorporate informal education in their lives seems more productive.  Just because an engineer or someone else focuses on technical aspects for their tertiary education doesn't mean that person is necessarily uncultured and in-curious about the world.  I will write it again: most of the rest of the first world doesn't have college general education requirements the way the US does because they put most of that education before high school graduation.  The people who tend to succeed at college in the US also already have that solid K-12 background upon which to draw.

In summary, I'd much, much rather put more resources into better K-12 education so people can specialize in job training or professional education of some sort in their late teens instead of continuing a failed march through the trappings of an education without the substance of any kind of education.

I think we should continue to have the humanities and fine arts offered at the college level for those who want them.  My frustration is not having those things done well at the K-12 level so that individual humans can make a good choice post-high-school about what further education they need to enhance their lives.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2019, 05:10:44 AM by polly_mer »
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!

marshwiggle

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Here's a challenge for forumites: What courses would you consider highly important which are NOT from your own discipline? In other words, what do you think is worth having even if it won't preserve your job or the jobs of your colleagues?

This is the wrong question.  The human knowledge and skills I consider highly important are better done for years at the K-12 level so people can specialize during tertiary education.


I agree. My point in asking the question was that people who argue for a "general" (i.e. non-job focused) post-secondary education are very hard to take seriously when the most vital courses that should be part of it just happen to be in their own discipline.


The larger point is that most of the tangible value of a college degree has always been the credential.

No, rather the reverse. In the 17th century, Latin and Greek were real essential skills for certain professions. Isaac Newton's "Principia" ,like many other scientific documents, was written in Latin. Catholic masses were conducted in Latin until the 1960's or so, I believe. (Anyone able to confirm/deny that?)

Newton was an academic. I mean my college experience is directly relevant to my job too, but that isn't the the norm.

But the point is that in the 17th century people were still writing in Latin, so it wasn't like studying Klingon today. Furthermore, in the 17th century, it was possible for a person to learn all that was known in a discipline (or several!) within a few years. (For instance, all of Newtonian physics is now covered in first year.) In the 18th century a person could learn all of the known physics, chemistry, and mathematics within the time for a single degree. So a "general" education covered a great deal of several fields.

That's not a "credential" by any means.

It takes so little to be above average.

ciao_yall

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Here's a challenge for forumites: What courses would you consider highly important which are NOT from your own discipline? In other words, what do you think is worth having even if it won't preserve your job or the jobs of your colleagues?

My discipline is Business, and I am a flaming neoliberal capitalist. And, I believe education is incomplete without...

  • Political Science, to understand how the world works and interests intersect.
  • History, to learn how individual people can, and do, make a difference.
  • Literature, to understand how stories and information are presented and manipulated.
  • Environmental or biological science, to understand the ground and world around them.
  • Art and Art History, because human beings are visual creatures and communicate and respond through visual media.

And so on...

marshwiggle

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Here's a challenge for forumites: What courses would you consider highly important which are NOT from your own discipline? In other words, what do you think is worth having even if it won't preserve your job or the jobs of your colleagues?

My discipline is Business, and I am a flaming neoliberal capitalist. And, I believe education is incomplete without...

  • Political Science, to understand how the world works and interests intersect.
  • History, to learn how individual people can, and do, make a difference.
  • Literature, to understand how stories and information are presented and manipulated.
  • Environmental or biological science, to understand the ground and world around them.
  • Art and Art History, because human beings are visual creatures and communicate and respond through visual media.

And so on...

Sure, but the point is, if you were going to propose a general degree for everyone, with something like a total of 40 courses, you'd have to make hard choices about which to include and which to reject. And a single introductory course to many of those things would hardly provide any useful grounding, (as Polly indicated).

I'm not arguing that there isn't value in all kinds of disciplines, but if there's a core beyond high school that everyone should get, it needs very careful consideration to have any observable outcome. ( I believe it was the book "Academically Adrift" that documented how most students get very little out of an undergraduate degree.)
It takes so little to be above average.

tuxthepenguin

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Tux, would you say the same about a student who dreams of pitching in the majors, but can't get a ball going faster than 35mph? That's the level of discussion I'm talking about.

It's all a matter of how you handle it. If you tell the student they need to be able to pitch at least 90 mph to even get a scout to look at them, they'll give up on their own after working six months and topping out at 40. I wouldn't tell anyone they're not good enough now so they should give up and do something else. That's a decision they need to make. Sometimes you just have to let other people make bad decisions.

ciao_yall

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Here's a challenge for forumites: What courses would you consider highly important which are NOT from your own discipline? In other words, what do you think is worth having even if it won't preserve your job or the jobs of your colleagues?

My discipline is Business, and I am a flaming neoliberal capitalist. And, I believe education is incomplete without...

  • Political Science, to understand how the world works and interests intersect.
  • History, to learn how individual people can, and do, make a difference.
  • Literature, to understand how stories and information are presented and manipulated.
  • Environmental or biological science, to understand the ground and world around them.
  • Art and Art History, because human beings are visual creatures and communicate and respond through visual media.

And so on...

Sure, but the point is, if you were going to propose a general degree for everyone, with something like a total of 40 courses, you'd have to make hard choices about which to include and which to reject. And a single introductory course to many of those things would hardly provide any useful grounding, (as Polly indicated).

I'm not arguing that there isn't value in all kinds of disciplines, but if there's a core beyond high school that everyone should get, it needs very careful consideration to have any observable outcome. ( I believe it was the book "Academically Adrift" that documented how most students get very little out of an undergraduate degree.)

Define "outcome." And "observable."

Because what people get out of college is not so much what they studied, but the "ways of knowing" of a particular discipline. And, the norms, disposition and cultural touchpoints of the educated professional class by spending 4 years prostrate to the higher mind, in the words of the Indigo Girls.

Was recently at a conference with a guy around my age who was a Trump lover and boasted that his degree was in Economics so he thought Trump was "brilliant." I said "Yeah, my degree was also in Economics. And 30 years ago what we learned about Economics has changed. The USA is no longer an economic hegemon as it was when we were in college. China and India and Russia have joined the developed world. The EU has unified. The USSR has split though is trying to rebuild. Global economies are much more integrated now than they were in the past."

I suggested he pop into an Econ class at the Community College where he worked and get a bit more current.


marshwiggle

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Because what people get out of college is not so much what they studied, but the "ways of knowing" of a particular discipline. And, the norms, disposition and cultural touchpoints of the educated professional class by spending 4 years prostrate to the higher mind, in the words of the Indigo Girls.


I can't tell if this is sarcasm, or just pompous bafflegab. There are no "ways of knowing" in calculus. There is only "Can you differentiate or integrate this function?" You don't have to be "prostrate to the higher mind" in physics; you just have to calculate the trajectory of the stupid projectile!!!!

No-one teaching in those disciplines cares if you learned the material from them, only that you know it.
It takes so little to be above average.

mahagonny

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Here's a challenge for forumites: What courses would you consider highly important which are NOT from your own discipline? In other words, what do you think is worth having even if it won't preserve your job or the jobs of your colleagues?

My discipline is Business, and I am a flaming neoliberal capitalist. And, I believe education is incomplete without...

  • Political Science, to understand how the world works and interests intersect.
  • History, to learn how individual people can, and do, make a difference.
  • Literature, to understand how stories and information are presented and manipulated.
  • Environmental or biological science, to understand the ground and world around them.
  • Art and Art History, because human beings are visual creatures and communicate and respond through visual media.

And so on...

Sure, but the point is, if you were going to propose a general degree for everyone, with something like a total of 40 courses, you'd have to make hard choices about which to include and which to reject. And a single introductory course to many of those things would hardly provide any useful grounding, (as Polly indicated).

I'm not arguing that there isn't value in all kinds of disciplines, but if there's a core beyond high school that everyone should get, it needs very careful consideration to have any observable outcome. ( I believe it was the book "Academically Adrift" that documented how most students get very little out of an undergraduate degree.)

Define "outcome." And "observable."

Because what people get out of college is not so much what they studied, but the "ways of knowing" of a particular discipline. And, the norms, disposition and cultural touchpoints of the educated professional class by spending 4 years prostrate to the higher mind, in the words of the Indigo Girls.


I agree. Because i would have said 'literature, because "behind every book there is a man" [or a woman, but the point is, a soul].'

spork

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[. . .]

 a single introductory course to many of those things would hardly provide any useful grounding, (as Polly indicated).

[. . .]

Basically what we have now with distribution model gen ed requirements. Totally useless.