Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Are Colleges Failing?"

If you are teaching in higher education, I recommend an article entitled "Are Colleges Failing?" from the Boston Globe. For someone like me, who is just about to embark on this whole teaching thing, this is a very interesting and helpful article.

I can imagine that those who have been teaching for a long time would be inclined to continue to teach in the same manner they have for years. However, empirical evidence is providing ideas for changing teaching methods to help college students learn better. For example, "studies indicate that problem-based discussion, group study, and other forms of active learning produce greater gains in critical thinking than lectures."

I am lucky because my coworker, who taught in the Fall semester the class I will soon be teaching in the Spring, is very interested in problem-based learning and other forms of active learning. I have a lot of good ideas to draw from. He is also, incidently, the individual who forwarded this article to me. But then again, he is fairly new to teaching as well, and perhaps that makes him, like me, more inclined to come up with new, innovative, and interesting ways to help students learn.

Another quote from the article is actually rather frightening: "Most college seniors do not think that they have made substantial progress in improving their competence in writing or quantitative methods, and some assessments have found that many students actually regress." As someone who proofreads papers for friends and relatives, I can honestly say that while I have seen writing skills improve, it sometimes seems that these skills could have improved more than they did during undergraduate study. I definitely have not seen anyone actually regress, but then again, they've had me (nit-picky English major) to harass them and provide help beyond what they would get in class. And I do know, just from random things I've heard from students, that many of them (myself included, in fact) have figured out how to play the game. They become adept at determining what level of work a professor expects. Then, even if that level is below what they are capable of, they still provide work that only just meets that level.

I also agree with the article on the fact that graduate study does not really prepare one to teach. I realize that I have an MLIS, not the Ph.D. usually required to teach in higher education, but librarians do a lot of teaching. Graduate school did provide guidance on the "reference interview" so that librarians can better interact with patrons/customers to determine what information they are looking for. However, with those of us in higher education giving so many bibliographic/library instruction sessions, there really needs to be more guidance on teaching.

I suppose the moral of the story is that when teaching one needs to evaluate his/her techniques constantly, read literature on recent studies and new developments in teaching, and be open to change for the betterment of the students.

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