Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Taking the Joy out of Teaching

Without a doubt, most global Higher Education rankings are dominated by the US universities. This is largely because of the cutting edge research that takes place in these institutions. However, teaching is also an important component of this success. Comparatively speaking, universities in the US place much higher emphasis on teaching than other countries. Otherwise, why would thousands of international students flock into the US for undergraduate education?

My university is no exception. Even though we are told, time and again, that the university aspires to become a research institute, this semester we have only ONE workshop scheduled on research (grant writing). However, there has been orientations, workshops, training sessions, brown bag lunches, and you name it meetings on teaching every almost EVERY DAY!

I attended one last Friday, scheduled between ungodly hours of 4 pm & 6pm! But there was booze, which always helps..:)  
Here are some observations:

*Please tailor these workshops a bit!

-How you teach a massive Intro level course is vastly different from teaching an upper level, specialized course, or a colloquium. Yet, most of these workshops assume “teaching” is one big monolith! Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet teaching technique that would work in all circumstances.

-Please pay attention to the great variation across disciplines. When a presenter from critical pedagogy was preaching us on “reflecting subaltern perspectives in teaching” all of Pharmacy and Genetics faculty on my table kept rolling their eyes…. 

*Please stop pushing us towards adopting more technology!

            -We don’t know whether the latest expensive software or hi-tech gimmick is actually increasing student learning. There is no conclusive research??

            -If I LOVED technology so much, I would’ve studied computer sciences, not political science!

            -Stop alienating us even more, by adopting incentives that diminish face-to-face, human-to-human interaction. We stare at screens all day long! Let us look at fellow human beings for 50 minutes in a day for a change…

*On-line teaching is NOT a substitute for REAL university education!

            -Do you think someone who got an on-line degree from Harvard or Oxford would have the exact same experience as someone who actually studied in their campuses in Boston & Oxford?

            -University is not just about taking some exams and filling up credit requirements.

            -University is also about socialization: with your peers, with faculty, etc. You learn not only during class times, but also in the cafeterias, dorms & libraries as you watch your peers and negotiate your way. You get exposed to a million different campus activities. It’s a unique atmosphere, different from the “real world”. And that is a good thing!

            -You won’t have the same experience, if you’ve never been to a real campus, and just completed an on-line degree in your underwear from your bedroom.

            -I concede that under limited circumstances, on-line teaching is OK. (vocational/professional training, non-traditional/working students, etc) But a virtual degree is a significantly diluted version of higher education. Let’s not forget that.

*Finally, my favorite comment in that long and tiring meeting came from an anatomy professor. Here I quote:

            “All these powerpoints and hi-tech stuff, they are killing the spontaneity in classrooms! If you want to help me improve my teaching, offer some acting lessons. That would really help!”

Wishing you all REAL Universities with Fantastic Professors,

On-line weary Academic Mommy

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