Thursday, November 12, 2015

When the conflicting values of faculty and students collide

Previously I posted about how faculty members should respond to student evaluations of teaching. 
There is an interesting article at Faculty Focus, that highlights the increasingly conflicting values and expectations between some faculty, students and parents. It’s Not Me, It’s You: Coping with Student Resistance by Nicola Winstanley.
Nearly 20 years ago, Neil Postman warned in The End of Education that education was being replaced by “schooling,” a means whereby learning becomes deeply embedded in a capitalist structure that values knowledge only for its industrial utility. In other words, education is a means to an end—getting a job—rather than an ongoing process at the heart of culture. It’s within this context that some students have come to see education as no more than a deliverable—one that they have paid for dearly. 
The fact that many students accept this paradigm is made evident every day in both their comments and behavior. For instance, some students may think that pedagogical deviation from hard facts and skills is simply a waste of time. Some may even go so far as to abdicate all responsibility for learning anything, because, after all, they’ve paid for it, and as practiced consumers they are used to getting what they want as long as they lay down the cash.
This reminded me of a colleague who taught with a flipped classroom. A student complained that this is not what he paid for. The student said he paid the lecturer to teach him, not to leave the student to figure things out for himself! Another colleague in the law school had a student complain that he resented that the professor made the students think so much.

It also reminded me of a colleague at an Ivy League university who encountered students and parents who thought that because they were paying $40K per year the student was entitled to an A! In Australia it is not unheard of for full fee-paying international students to claim that they are entitled to a degree because they are paying for it. The fact that they do minimal work and are unable to complete the most rudimentary academic tasks (e.g. write a coherent paragraph in English) is considered irrelevant.

 Reading the beginning of the article I found it disturbing and sad to see the negative impact of the student evaluations on the mental health of the author. I now realise that I need to add an additional point to my Survival and sanity guide to new facultyDon’t take too personally negative feedback from students. It may say more about them than you.

These conflicts of values can be particularly acute in the Majority World where there is a fixation on rote learning and "teaching to the test", and conceptions of plagiarism can be quite different from in the West. Such differences are nicely and sadly described in a recent New York Times article, "Teaching the Common Core in China."In shame-based cultures, students may respond particularly negatively to being disciplined for cheating or having their academic weaknesses reavealed.

I thank Chacko Jacob for bringing the article to my attention.

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