Paul L. Caron

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Teaching The Students We Have, Not The Students We Wish We Had

Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed:  Teaching the Students We Have, Not the Students We Wish We Had, by Sara Goldrick-Rab (Temple University) & Jesse Stommel (University of Mary Washington):

Today’s college students are radically different from the students occupying college classrooms even a decade ago. The expansion of education that propelled widespread positive change through American communities in the 20th century has reached beyond high school, and more people than ever before understand the importance of postsecondary education in all its forms.

For broader participation to lead to positive outcomes — for example, the completion of degrees without huge debt burdens — students must have good experiences in the classroom. This is especially important yet incredibly difficult as the new economics of college are compromising the time, energy, and money that students and many of their professors have to spend on quality learning.

These are the core challenges of college today — and yet they are too often ignored. Instead, symptoms of those problems dominate air time, as the stereotype persists of "academically adrift" "snowflakes" "coddled" by their universities. Consider the recent essay by Nancy Bunge, "Students Evaluating Teachers Doesn’t Just Hurt Teachers. It Hurts Students," which takes on student evaluations. Bunge contends the "unearned arrogance encouraged by the heavy reliance on student evaluations helps produce passive, even contemptuous students who undermine the spirit of the class and lower its quality for everyone."

Her enemy appears to be sites like the often-lamented Rate My Professors, but her piece also attacks the students themselves, and reinforces a set of assertions largely drawn from one influential yet extremely narrow study, Academically Adrift, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. The limited learning lamented by the authors is said to be linked to insufficiently challenging instructors, and according to Bunge those instructors are not demanding more of their students because they want to get good grades. She cites a Chronicle survey in which faculty members claim that students are "harder to teach" these days. The overall narrative suggests we should feel sorry for the faculty. If only they could have more-engaged students to teach.

There is an alternative explanation. Today’s college students are the most overburdened and undersupported in American history. More than one in four have a child, almost three in four are employed, and more than half receive Pell Grants but are left far short of the funds required to pay for college. Rather than receiving help from their parents to pay for college, even the youngest college students often have to use their loans to pay their parents’ bills. ...

We need more, not fewer, ways to listen for the voices of students reflecting on education. We need more, not fewer, ways to include students in conversations about the future of teaching and learning in college. These conversations cannot begin by sending a signal to students that their voices don’t matter. ...

As educators, we need to lead the way and design our pedagogical approaches for the students we have, not the students we wish we had. This requires approaches that are responsive, inclusive, adaptive, challenging, and compassionate. And it requires that institutions find more creative ways to support teachers and prepare them for the work of teaching. This is not a theoretical exercise — it is a practical one.

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"Learning from the professors we have, not the professors we wish we had."
Funny how that works.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jan 3, 2019 4:00:42 AM

> We need more, not fewer, ways to listen for the voices of students reflecting on education. We need more, not fewer, ways to include students in conversations about the future of teaching and learning in college.

... Why?

Posted by: Ryan Waxx | Dec 31, 2018 1:15:22 AM

We need more Adjunct Administrators to lower the cost of college, so that the students can afford it. When I went to college the ratio of admins to professors was close to 0.2 to 1, with few if any adjunct professors (instructors). Now half of the professors are adjuncts and the admin to prof ratio is closer to 1.25 to 1 with the administrators each pulling in more than a full professors salary.

Posted by: The Thomas | Dec 30, 2018 8:32:18 PM

We need fewer colleges and fewer liberal arts snowflake grads. Junior colleges and trade schools are better options for many students now in 4 year programs that will not prepare them for jobs. Bring back manufacturing and manufacturing jobs. Picking fruit for the lazy and or stupid, rather than for illegal aliens. Send all H1B visa holders home and E-Verify for all.

Posted by: R. Vance | Dec 30, 2018 3:17:59 PM

The point made here is a good one. But so too is the question of whether there are life circumstances that are simply incompatible with the demands of a college (or law school) education. Surely there is some amount of work, child care, and other financial responsibilities, into which the real demands of higher education CANNOT be fitted. This may mean we need an entirely different system for financing higher education - maybe it's one of the best arguments for such a change, in fact: that there is an ineliminable minimum of time and attention one MUST devote to college/law school in order to receive its benefits, and if students have been pushed below that, we CANNOT successfully deliver our program to them - no matter what we do or how hard we try.

Posted by: Diane Klein | Dec 30, 2018 9:49:23 AM