Change (Thanks, Obama!)

For those who don’t know, check out the meme Thanks, Obama! here for the reference. It is always nice to have somebody to blame for your issues, no matter how ridiculous the target is.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what I would want to see change about higher education all throughout this semester. Naturally, there isn’t an easy answer. I could make a Case Against Grades like Alfie Kohn, as I hate it when students stress over their grades. “No! I want you to think critically, knowing that there isn’t a correct answer. Stop asking me for grading criteria!” (This hasn’t happened exactly like this, but students seem so concerned with “getting it right” that they miss out on the exact reason for assignments, namely, critical thought and effective communication). We live in a culture where students expect there to be an answer, when in reality there is not.

Or, I could advocate for more problem-based learning, as these skills are going to take most students further than other form of learning, in my humble opinion.

Or, I could argue for a greater use of technology to reach students. Blogs, twitter, facebook, or texts are all ways to keep conversations going outside of the classroom.

In the end, I realize that all of these areas revolve around one main theme: teaching. I think teaching needs to be given more of a priority in higher education, especially at research institutions. At Virginia Tech, teaching is expected to take a back seat while research or other work is raised on a pedestal. This is definitely the perception that I have from the majority of faculty, save for a few. I love to teach. Plain and simple. And, considering we are all graduate students (probably a little bit too into perfection), we are not going to accept mediocrity in anything, including teaching. So, when the message is that teaching does not matter as much as research, we become conflicted. Of course it matters!

The reality is that most of the undergraduate students that go through Virginia Tech are not going to be researchers. It is a huge disservice to not give teaching the time of day. When teaching seems like a chore, students are going to pick up on that and not take their education seriously. I wouldn’t be engaged in a topic where the professor seemed tortured for being there. Or was not willing to explore or adapt depending on how the class went. That is when higher education has failed, and I am afraid that we have been on a path of outcome over process for far too long.

I think higher education could do a much better job celebrating teaching and training educators. Make teaching just as important as other areas. Provide classes or didactic seminars or workshops about teaching, and make sure professors have the time and resources to attend. Promote teaching observations or practicum about teaching. Talking about different styles of teaching or how education differs is fascinating, and should be made known. Share resources and have somebody present with experience, rather than assuming graduate students or professors will just get it. Should new teachers be thrown in the deep end? Perhaps. But, there should be a lifeguard present. The only way to be a better teacher is to practice, so letting there be opportunities for practice would ideal. I think teaching, especially at a research institution, needs to be given more importance.

Category(s): PFP14S

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