Monday, July 30, 2012

College Students aren’t learning shit (?) [by anon]

There is a study out, a fairly influential study, that reports that students who go to college are basically not learning how to think any better by the time they graduate.  This study is the basis for the recent book, Academically Adrift.  I finished the book over the weekend and now the ringing warning, “The ship is sinking!” keeps flashing in my head.
There are big problems with higher education.  Here are a few, and I’ve gathered these from such books as Academically Adrift and my own observations.  This is not exhaustive.
1.    Well done research studies cannot be ignored.  The awesome learning us faculty thought was happening on our campuses is not happening.  In fact, there might not be any substantial learning going on at all.  Some faculty will just poo-poo the studies of Academically Adrift and say that the have some problems with their methodology.  This one faculty person said that to me a couple of days ago, but that’s avoidance.  Wake up faculty!  You cannot ignore good evidential findings.
2.    Most faculty are hired to teach, though few, if any, of them have had any training on how to teach.  K-12 teachers have had tons of training.  College teachers – zero.  Is that the dumbest thing ever?!?!?!??  Maybe it makes perfect sense that students aren’t learning how to think any better.  Us faculty probably aren’t the right ones to teach students since we’re probably not teaching well.
3.    Faculty are hired to educate students, but teaching is only a part of what we’re supposed to do.  It depends on the school, but there is usually considerable research and service [read “committee work”] demands.  So while a faculty member’s time should be spent overwhelmingly on teaching and improving one’s teaching, there are other hurdles to jump so that we aren’t fired.  Unfortunately, the major criterion for getting tenure and promotion at UWW is research.  One has to have the right number of publications or else get ready for a great big, “NO!” when it comes time for your tenure decision.  The irony is so few people actually read what one publishes, but at UWW, we have over 120 students a semester of whom we have the chance to educate.  Research does nothing for the education of students, whereas our teaching is paramount.  Service can be hit or miss depending on what one is doing.  But lots of “service” can be busywork.
4.    Tenure is a problem.  While it was instituted as a way to protect the academic freedom of faculty, it has become the bed of which lazy professors can lie.  For many professors, once they get tenure, they take it as license to take it easy on improving their teaching and engaging in any research.  They view tenure as protection from getting fired, even if their performance slips to sub-par.  Tenure is a big problem.
5.    University athletics are a problem.  Do bigger and better sports teams and the millions of dollars spent on those programs help education at all?  Absolutely not!  Whatever profit is made goes right back into the sports machine.
6.    Schools focus on better, glossier buildings, better workout facilities, and state-of-the-art residence halls all to appeal the consumerism of students.  Tons of money is spent on the frivolous, when most of that needs to be reinvested in improving education.  Did I mention that studies are showing that students aren’t learning how to think better?
7.    Most people (students, faculty, administration, parents, politicians, and business people) view higher education exclusively as a substantial job-training program.  They don’t view higher education as a place to be challenged, a place to find your commitments, an arena to grow wiser and develop cognitively, a way to find your passions, or the means to become a more interesting person.  There is a difference between “training” and “education.”  The latter is so much more appealing, but it is losing favor with everyone because of the market.
8.    Tuition is increasing, thus student loan debt is increasing.  P-R-O-B-L-E-M
There are more problems – you know there are more problems (e.g., grade inflation, student apathy, easier classes…).
I’m thoroughly overwhelmed now.  The ship is sinking…the ship is sinking…


  1. Well, if I wasn't completely depressed before I read this, I am now..

    Are these mainly just America's problems, or would we find this kind of stuff happening in other countries too?

    Also, how do we get rid of the fluff of college? And how do we make teachers NOT treat tenure like it's a get out of jail free card or something?

    I don't know. Thinking about this stuff makes college seem like a big scam to me in a way, and unless everyone uses the available resources and works hard to get the most out of their occupation (as a student or professor), college won't be much more than four years of expensive job training/partying for the student, and a weekly paycheck for the professor.

    It just seems like too few people think about education the way you do for things to actually change (not to be a Pessimistic Pete, or whatever).

    Anyway, what's the point in the big scheme of things? So the ship is sinking... if it goes down, so what?

  2. HAHAH. I wish UW-W had a better fitness center/weight room. My high school weight room had more lifting equipment...

  3. So what are you going to do about it instead of just bitch and moan? The ship will never go down. People have been talking the same shit for the past 25 years. No learning taking place on campus, yet we have grads in medical and law schools, some of them are even medical doctors. You say however that they do not learn how to think at Whitewater. Lets improve the fitness center.

    1. The post did not say that there is no learning taking place... it said that students aren't learning how to think better (maybe you have to re-read).

      Anyway... students can learn and memorize a warehouse of information/techniques and go on to be doctors, laywers, or whatever, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are going to a) be GOOD doctors, lawyers, etc. or b) think critically about what they've been taught in order to be innovative and creative problem solvers. A lot of people in a lot of professions seem to have a systematic way of dealing with everything, and over and over they use the same methods they learned in school, but they may not have learned the methods of thinking required in order to more accurately analyze what they've learned, what they experience, and the new information they receive day to day. I guess this is just my speculation about what this post is trying to get at.

    2. That is what the post is getting at. College is supposed to be more than a technical school. It is supposed to be a place for rich education, a place where people learn to think in complex ways and figure out how to solve non-textbook problems. The issue is whether higher education is simply another credentialing institution or if there is something robustly more to it. I aim for the latter - I will always aim for the latter - but things are looking grim.

  4. Steve Nass is a Whitewater grad and he gives the pointed headed liberals hell.

  5. If you can find it I suggest reading Corruption On Campus, which is all about UW-Whitewater. Also UW-Whitewater has a problem of teachers curving grades to no end.

    1. Someone wrote an entire book about corruption at UW-Whitewater?
      Wow not cool.
      I would have certainly picked a different university if I knew.

  6. i believe that is the incorrect use of sub-par in your article.