How I love me some Ellen Langer on a wintry Sunday morning. She was the first woman to be tenured in the psychology department at Harvard. Sipping coffee, watching the birds eat peanuts I left out on my balcony for them, and, just giggling to myself at how many VT professors would never put Langer as a required reading in their course syllabus. I’ve blogged extensively regarding the topic of mindless teaching practices by top tier researchers who really don’t want to teach. Let’s be honest, how do we as students benefit from them? Feel free to look at my previous blogs on this topic and one of the most interesting was “Human decency in higher education might be missing at VT……“.
Being mindful is implicitly understood as having some degree of freedom to color outside the lines and the ability to say “Hey, maybe we can try something different in class?” Being mindless is taking that same excitement and telling the student “No, that’s not how it’s been done in the past and it’s too much work to incorporate that idea!” A very clear example of this is hearing some professors (journal editors) say they regularly desk reject articles simply on the basis that it doesn’t fit the “mold”. Hahahaha…..and my favorite line which I think is absolutely clever: “Follow the Golden Rule. He who has the Gold makes the rules!” Obviously, not all professors are mindless and I would never imply that. But, I do think it is a pandemic we as researchers of the future are facing. I support OpenAccess for this very reason. Yeah, I also wrote a blog on that! LOL!
I’ve been around long enough to understand why some students choose to take notes on a laptop (because it’s the only mechanism they’ve known) or, how recording lectures on a cellphone might help them remember what was said during a discussion; but, in my future classes I will not allow laptops nor cellphones to be present unless it is part of a syllabus activity. There are a few reasons for this. First, what I teach (regardless of the discipline area) must be communicated in a manner that is easily formatted for cognitive recollection. Second, items that are not discussed in seminar will not be tested on mid-terms or final exams. Third, class participation will be crucial for expanding discussion topics and creating new streams of colloquy. Exceptions for this as mentioned are for syllabus activities which I could imagine would be three or four times a semester.
In the article linked above by NPR it discussed that 1/3 of a psychology course spent time surfing for non related classroom material. My guess would be that this is a much higher percentage. I don’t doubt many areas of education might require the use of a computer on a daily basis but in my discipline it isn’t necessary so it would be considered a distraction. If I can’t teach it which results in the student not remembering the material, then I’ve failed. If I’ve taught it and the student can’t remember the material, then they’ve failed. The middle ground here is understanding that there are multiple ways of teaching and learning. As a professor I must be engaged daily with my students to understand where each one is on the learning path. It is my responsibility to do so.
I just watched Michael Wesch’s TedTalk about his baby and the learning curve one goes through when not being afraid to fail. It is completely different when the age of innocence has been lost and we as a society are forced into boxes of performance milestones which when not successfully passed means some students are literally left behind. As a future professor these are topics I address quite a bit in my blog (amongst other things), but, most importantly I challenge archaic methods of teaching. I’m so pleased to see that Mr. Wesch can verbalize with character depictions some thoughts that I’ve had locked away in my head.
Some professors in PhD programs are so stuck in how “they progressed” through a program of study that they aren’t willing to allow new generations, albeit the future generation of professors, to explore innovative ways of doing things. So many are living the “if I had to suffer then you do as well” mentality. Sorry Charlie, we will not allow you to continue the destructive nature of repeating an inept cycle. Some of us did come from challenging life experiences as stated in Mr. Wesch’s video and we know dysfunction when we see it. Let alone the complete disinterest that undergraduates are subjected to when taking a course from a “brilliant researcher” who has zero capacity to express empathy. We must continue to have valid and relevant conversations addressing these concerns. As a top educational facility we are shaping the next generation of this country and we owe it to society to think outside the box and allow all forms of expression which result in real leaning, not just the checking off of milestones.