The fight worth fighting

I really enjoyed all the reading assignments for this week and the video on Digital Media – New Learners of the 21st Century. They have given me a renewed energy on education and learning, a renewed interest in getting involved in the fight against standardization of the educational system towards a system that embraces change and is ultimately centered around the learner.

Through conversations with some of my colleagues, oftentimes what some express as the reasons not to go into academia involve the frustrations with the current state of education and how much it has been influenced by politics and a previous cultural setting to adopt an industrial model. But instead of feeling discouraged by the status quo, we should feel empowered and even more motivated to join “the fight worth fighting” as one educator referred to it in the video. It was very inspiring to see all the educators, from different parts of the country, come up with creative and engaging ways of teaching their subjects. I particularly liked the project Reacting to the Past presented in the article by Mark C. Carnes which teaches history through role playing and allows them to develop it and experience it by themselves. This would certainly equip students with a long-term understanding of the deeper issues instead of being asked to temporarily remember certain facts and dates. The article paid tribute to its title by setting my mind on fire. It got me thinking about how such a creative approach could be adopted in some of the subjects related to my field or even how I could better communicate what I do to a broad audience; I think that to this day, a few members of my family still do not quite understand what I do.

Lastly, the book by James Paul Gee on “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy” sparked my interest not only to read the rest of the book beyond the introduction chapter provided, but also to play some video games again. I used to play video games in different consoles growing up (I shared one with my sister, and we used to play at our friends’ and cousins’ as well) and some of the best memories of spending time together with friends and family involved video games. Now that I have read all the positive effects it can have on mental agility and how maybe one day doctors will prescribe video games instead of pills to treat certain disorders, it makes me even more inclined to play them again. Dr. Adam Gazzaley has given a few talks¬†and interviews on his research using video games to improve brain health which seems pretty compelling.

Increase in quantity at the expense of decrease in quality

I was also unaware of the changes proposed by ABET on their accreditation assessments of engineering programs. The essay titled “We Assess What We Value” successfully captures, in my opinion, the detrimental consequences that such changes would undoubtedly bring to the educational experience of engineers. If anything, I always thought that requirements that included a “global and social context, engineering ethics, and lifelong learning” as part of the engineering curriculum needed to be strengthened. Actually as I write this I’m thinking maybe not always thought because I don’t recall feeling this strongly about it when I was an undergraduate student myself but certainly during my time in graduate school and the more I contemplate the subject.

There is definitely a pervasive thinking that the more ‘technical’ a degree’s curriculum is, the farther removed it is to people and the less attention needs to be given to the ‘human’ element in all its forms. This trend can be seen even within the different branches of engineering where more emphasis on “ethics” as established coursework is assigned for the biomedical field (where it is easy for most people to see a direct connection between their work and its impact on humans) than some of the other engineering disciplines.

Another negative result that can be attributed to this “outcome-based education” system that focuses on quantifying and rewarding accordingly, is the information overload in the scientific literature. It seems that academia is currently working in a system that rewards quantity over quality. Scientists are graded (by colleagues, peers, and superiors) by the number of citations they have under their name which–much like individuals attribute their ‘value’ or ‘relevance’ based on the number of ‘likes’ they get on any social media platform–can be unfairly skewed based on the size of the audience it reaches and the nature of these relationships. This assessment method can drive a system that undercuts the quality and depth of research in exchange for fast results that increase the number of publications, and might encourage other forms of unethical behavior. And similarly to the effect it has on students’ satisfaction and intrinsic motivation to learn, they can result in loss of enjoyment for the profession.