Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Greenspun on Universites

by Andrew Gillen

I saw a couple of excerpts of a post by Philip Greenspun that lead me to believe it was going to be a rant about the ineffectiveness of lectures. As I’m a sucker for a good rant, I couldn’t resist, and while there is some ranting about lectures, it was quite interesting on a number of other topics as well.

Greenspun:
candidates complained that private sector workers have not enjoyed increased real wages since the 1970s. Someone who had just finished read A Farewell to Alms would respond "If American workers aren't better educated than they were in the 1970s, why would you expect their wages to rise?"…

It made a lot of sense for professors to lecture in the 11th Century. What other means of broadcasting information from 1 person to 100 existed? Printing was very expensive and cumbersome. Having monks make 100 copies of a textbook by hand was not economically feasible…

Teaching technologies developed since 1088:
• movable type
• cheap paper made from trees
• telephone
• photocopier
• email
• Web

How has this changed the way classes are conducted? We still have lectures and homework, just as in 1088. What other industry could survive without adopting at least some of the technologies of the last 1000 years into its core processes?...

In the face of massive technological advances, the most significant change that universities have made is removing their only quality control mechanism. Through tenure, the university now guarantees professors pay regardless of effectiveness…

One argument for traditional lecture-based teaching is that storytelling is a primal human activity… A problem with this approach is that it depends on finding millions of great storytellers…

[Mocks the lectures of one professor, quite unfairly in my opinion]

Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 1.7 million Americans work as college teachers (source). If Yale can't find teachers who can use classroom time effectively, what hope is there for universities with less money and prestige?...

Why should a university change? … There is literally no way that a university can be embarrassed by its graduates' poor overall performance…

[Suggestions for Change]
Stop grading your own students

Stop lecturing
Pedagogy researchers have found that people stop paying attention after about 20 minutes. That's as long as a lecture should be at a university…

Build open offices for students

Provide detailed review of all work; grade students on their ability to assist other students

The days in which the U.S. could get richer without getting smarter are over…

3 comments:

Chercheur said...

Interesting. An ad for pornography in Chinese.

What would your mother say about this?

Should prostitution be included in GDP?

~ said...

Is that what that is?

Well, my mom doesn't read Chinese, so I think we're ok on that count.

Any ideas for how to cut down on this type of thing?

Daniel L. Bennett said...

I deleted the comment. We'll try to "regulate" such nonsense from appearing in the comments section.