Engage your imagination’s Edu-drive!

Close your eyes and imagine the typical classroom. Chances are that you imagined a middle-aged man, standing at a lectern, droning on about f/p/s electron orbitals or the civil war’s status quo antebellum socio-economic effect on the primarily agrarian communities of the southern United States.

Drone Professor Droning on about Drones

It is no surprise then that the neo-liberal educational model that has been around for quite some time has lost it’s effect as of late, and has been subject to several experiments on its improvement. Some of these experiments we read about in past weeks, some we read about this week, and some I have experienced and participated in as a part of my tenure as a perpetual student.

Khaled Adjerid PhD graduation, circa 2045

Jean Lacoste conducted one of his own experiments with his classroom of, from what I can surmise, can only be 100’s of students, by individualizing the content, making all of it available and allowing the students to pick and choose both how they consume the information and how they assess themselves. Unsurprisingly, the students all did well, had many fewer questions for him, and everyone was happy.

“I want each student to feel important…I want to reach every single student in the class….I decided to individualize the entire course…I developed numerous formative assessments so students could accurately evaluate their progress throughout the semester…Even my heavy email load was improved as nuisance policy/special consideration requests were replaced by thoughtful questions about course content. I haven’t had this much fun since I left the small classroom.”

-JEAN LACOSTE

What?

How is this even a real thing? First off, this solution doesn’t work for 2 reasons. The first is that it requires the instructor to develop a wider array of content that the students are free to pick and choose from. The instructor spends time developing in class, online, digital, video, handouts, etc. content that the students then get to pick from at their leisure for a more personalized experience, as if it were a Starbucks menu.

“I’ll have the grande online lecture with a venti homework and a skim final exam please”

Secondly, it doesn’t solve the problem that the author outlines in the introduction where he says that he doesn’t feel that he can connect personally with the students and the students don’t feel the professor can give enough feedback to each student or learn their names. This can only be solved by getting to know each student, spending time with their assessments, meeting them in office hours, and having quality interactions with them. This is piled on top of all of the other duties they may have, thus promptly killing the professor.

“RIP in Peace Professor Lacoste, at least you knew our names”

-His Students

I don’t want to be a negative Narendra, so I do want to point out that there are some of his methods that do contribute to a positive learning environment and a more personalized education. This does tend to give a sense of ownership to the learning and the material which can be a positive outcome, I just don’t feel that the entire learning, lesson plan, and assessment should be left to the students.

On a final note, there was a statement from the Carnes reading that stood out to me and I wanted to make a note of:

“No one can say that the future president of the Harvard Law Review (and of these United States) was not college material.”

– Mark C. Carnes

I  disagree. The famous quote from Einstein that says about judging a fish’s worth by assessing it’s ability to fly always comes to mind. Not everyone is ‘cut out’ for every field and should be assessed by the same measure nor should they all be required to attend colleges. I have seen many  engineering students who WERE NOT ENGINEERING MATERIAL. They tried at it many times, eventually, they found their home in AgSci, Business, or Psych; something ‘easier’ they admitted to me, to which I correct, “not easier, but more suited to their style of thinking and skill set”.

Others perhaps are not suited for college at all, rather for trade schools or apprenticeships, which were common and led to well paying careers up until the 70’s and 80’s before colleges became profit centers, not learning centers. These professions are now derided and looked down upon as being for the uneducated lower class, despite the fact that one who is successful in these trades can make well into the six figures, especially with an entrepreneurial mindset.

A plumber is one job they can’t outsource to China

 

3 comments:

  1. As always, I enjoyed reading your post, Khaled. During the last presidential campaign cycle, Bernie Sanders was promoting the idea of free college for all. I was teaching a course about the role of interest groups when all of the campaigning started and we got to talking about this idea in class. Of course, there are interest groups that would not want this and I pointed out that they were correct in recognizing the tip of the iceberg. But then I asked about what they couldn’t see below the surface of the water regarding the topic. Should everyone have the right to a free college education? During our discussion, I brought up the same point you make here about trade schools. The result after our discussion was that we should be saying “free post-secondary education for all.”

  2. Hmm…I think I have two thoughts that come to mind. The first gauges scope (and has a lot of external processing, sorry!) and the second offers some possible pushback/a request for nuance.

    First, I agree with you that Lacoste’s method may be limited insofar as there are some courses that would not be (at least currently if not on the whole) unamenable to the Starbucks style menu of course choices that he is using for his class. But, I didn’t take him to be furnishing a universal claim that this is how all courses ought to be set-up. I think that in general there may be at least some courses that can and ought to be set up in a more student controlled mode and I’m skeptical of appeals to uncertainty and implausibly as reasons to not reform systems and structures. For example, if G students learns through pictures and Y students learns through silently reading an article, and both can get to the same level of competency/ability/progress with respect to x, it seems objectionable to say to the G students “sorry, we only do Y style here” as opposed to changing the accessibility of the course to now be, well, accessible to different styles of learning. While some folks take the “well Y style is just what we do and it’s worked” or “it would just be too much time” I don’t share the intuition that these are weighty considerations as opposed to questions of values. As such, do you find less concern with a weaker as opposed to universal claim of application for Lacoste’s method?

    Second, I wanted to flag something you said about Carnes. When folks say “Well, they just aren’t cut out for [insert field/class/course/profession]” it always raises a concern for me. Historically, we know that this kind of thought process was used, and is used, to both exclude women, for example, from a number of jobs and to excuse behavior that contributed their exclusion.

    Common train of thoughts: Women repeatedly fail to excel in class x? They must just not be cut out for it.

    What else was going on (that this common line misses): The women were often ignored, tokenized, ridiculed, etc. in the classroom and felt so excluded and unwelcome that they decided to go into another profession.

    While I agree that not everyone is cut out for everything (that seems pretty tautological), I also think that it is important to name that sometimes people are cut out for [insert field/class/course/profession] but fail to excel due to the structure of the system and not due to intrinsic inability. I don’t think we can mention the former without mentioning the latter since sometimes the problem is the measure and not the person being measured.

  3. I see your point about the challenges with such large classes. I have graded for a class of 227 students and it can be very overwhelming (especially for someone who is not that good at face recognition and name memorization) but implementing ways of making a personal connection does help and you have the span of a semester to work your way through it. It might not come easy to make a connection with every single student but it is inspiring to see the different mechanisms that educators are coming up with to engage their students. Thanks for sharing!

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