Saturday, July 23, 2011

The elephant in the lecture theatre

There is an interesting (but long) article in The Australian Higher Education section Hitting the books, or booking the kegs by Glyn Davis. 
(Aside: He is Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University, where he pioneered a major reconstruction of the undergraduate program, known as the Melbourne Model, inspired by the Bologna Process. I believe this was a virtually unprecedented large scale change in an Australian university, reducing the number of degree options from 96 to 6!)
Much of the article refers to the book, Academically Adrift by Arum and Roksa, which I mentioned in an earlier post. I just mention here a particularly interesting quote from Davis' article:
Like many critics of the American college model, Arum and Roksa argue that incentives are skewed towards research to the detriment of student learning.
This is a situation, suggest Arum and Roksa, that nobody on campus is keen to challenge. American students want to acquire a degree with minimum effort, academics want to devote as much time as possible to research and administrators want to focus on the institutional rankings, which take no account of learning quality. James Wilkinson, director of the Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning at Harvard, reflected this concern in a 2006 Menzies Oration. Said Wilkinson: "It used to be said in the former Soviet Union, where the state was the sole employer, that 'they pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work'. Today, at least in the US, we could emend this cynical observation to read: 'they pretend to teach us, and we pretend to learn'."


  1. I think I found the problem. If "94 percent of American parents expect their children to go to college", then this is likely an example of making something priceless into something worthless by ensuring that everyone has it.

  2. If traditional lecturing is sub-optimal, I think it's dangerous to just assume that something different is something better.