Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Pedagogical Failures: Donald Tapscott's NPR Interview on How to Better Change Colleges to Suit the Millennial Snowflake Generation
As Mr. Burns said to Homer, "dance monkey dance!" It would seem that in the twenty-first century, the college classroom is being reduced to a carnival sideshow self-help session in which instructors are ring leaders.
The great Professor Claire Potter of Tenured Radical fame has moved over to The Chronicle of Higher Education's website. Quite kindly, she also imported her blog roll which includes this humble website. Thus, We Are Respectable Negroes has some new folks who may not have discovered us otherwise.
As long time readers know, I do occasionally comment on issues surrounding higher education where my favorite posts include the following: 1) how I have used the Black Israelites as a jumping off point for discussing white privilege and 2) the greatest student email ever sent by an entitled snowflake to their professor (which ironically The Chronicle reran for its readers last year).
In welcoming some new readers, many who likely work in higher education, it seemed appropriate to return to my theme of "pedagogical failures." Last Thursday, NPR's Talk of the Nation hosted the esteem Donald Tapscott who discussed his new book Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business And The World, and its thesis that colleges and universities need to retool for the 21st century and change how they engage the 'Net generation.
It is rare that I am moved to even consider calling into a radio program, but on that day I was quite close to pulling over to the side of the road and offering a fusillade or two for the good doctor to consider as rebuttals to his overly generous and rosy depiction of the current crop of college students.
Much of what Tascott offered was nothing new to those who are knowledgeable about the pressures facing colleges and universities in the 21st century. Instructors should place materials online, democratize information for ease of access and use, professors should move from "teacher centered" to a "student centered" classroom, change their teaching styles to suit a limited attention span generation of multitaskers, and that universities had better please the customer by making information "relevant" to students.
Context matters in this discussion. We are in the midst of a broader movement to destroy tenure and to adjunctize the profession, to radically review the role of liberal arts education in light of how it provides a "service" to students entering the labor market, and an overall assault on public education where the good work that is done in the classroom is reduced to a set of deliverables, the value of which can be assessed by bureaucrats and politicians, who then in turn decide who is to be fired and (re)hired. Ultimately, it seems that there is a whole lot being asked of college and university staff without a corresponding increase in compensation or job security.
In sum, after NPR's interview with Don Tapscott I was left with a good many questions, and some initial reactions that would benefit from a good salon. There are a good many educators and others who have thought about theses issues who frequent WARN so your thoughts are invited and welcome.
Let us begin:
1. Is it so problematic that many of the techniques used in the classroom of the 21st century are none to different from those used centuries ago? Is a good lecture, seminar, or discussion not in fact timeless?
2. Are professors employees of students? Should the former be providing some "deliverable" or "service" to the latter? How does this formulation negatively impact the quality of college-level instruction?
3. There is something to be said for the experience of participating in a classroom discussion, attending seminar or lecture, and interacting with one's fellow students. The experience of online learning and downloading materials seems to be missing out on the intangibles which separate a positive and deep learning experience from a superficial one. In the 21st century is college simply to be a way of delivering facts? Consequently, it is out-priced in an era of relatively "free" information online?
4. As mentioned in the NPR interview, is Phoenix University really a model of learning that we should be striving for across the board?
5. Tapscott has high praise for the current crop of college students, calling them "the smartest generation ever." Huh? What of data suggesting that Millennials are actually learning less than previous generations and retaining even fewer amounts of what they are exposed to?
6. Second point: how can Tapscott suggest that Millenials are doing well as measured by grades, when there has been a notorious amount of grade inflation in recent years, so severe that an "A" is now expected--even for the most mediocre of work?
7. I am no Luddite. I almost exclusively use a seminar approach in my teaching. As a function of that policy, I do not play Powerpoint karaoke, nor do I provide reading summaries, handouts, or offer copies of my notes to students. I also do not allow the use of laptops in my classes (this policy has greatly improved the quality of conversation; it has also weeded out weaker students who would rather be doing something else than giving the class their full focus). Am I so wrong? Are my students "missing out" on something?
8. I>clickers that reduce classes to a game show. Tweeting questions to professors instead of raising one's hand and asking them. Social networking in the classroom. In total: What are we teaching students by facilitating a culture where basic interpersonal skills are neglected, and their semi-anonymous narcissistic predilections coddled?
9. Tapscott praises the wondrous abilities of multitasking snowflakes who get good grades, can do three things at once, and (to my eyes and as mentioned in the NPR segment) are proud of never reading a book. Help me out, I thought the research suggested that multitasking is in fact changing brain structure...but in problematic ways? And that multitaskers perform poorly on said tasks all things being equal?
10. Back to technology. I have seen some great podcasts online of master lecturers from places such as Yale (cheers to my hometown), Harvard, Stanford, and elsewhere. But, what of the move to make all lectures available to any who would want to watch them? Is this in conflict with personal and academic freedom? Does the move to put classes and lectures online create the dangerous illusion that consumption by proxy is a fair substitute for having one's butt in the seat of a lecture hall?