Information Abundance and Teaching

I have written a number of times about information scarcity and information abundance, however, it is a message that is ignored.

I was in an exam today, watching students write an end of semester exam after having crammed over the past three or four days to get it all in. They were in a room equipped with wifi, and yet, they sat with no resources, trying to remember all they could about a subject that they aren’t really interested in, but need for a programme they are on. In thirty days, if they were to take the exam again (without warning) they would be able to recall about 20% of what they are able to answer today.

Why?

The class was a developmental psychology class that has truly followed the information doubling trajectory that I laid out years ago, and so there is no room in the syllabus for even a single breath of air. Over the course of 13 weeks, there were 18 chapters covered and three in-class tests taken. Given that there was only one class a week, that meant that there were two dense chapters of material covered every week of the semester. And, this was in order to provide a foundational understanding of the subject.

Given that the information in the area is going to double (at least once) again this year, that means that next year there will be four dense chapters a week to cover – although textbook writers seem to recognise the academic calendar, and so keep the chapters to around 15 (this text had 19 chapters).

Why?

Since we know that they won’t remember any of this information, why are we doing this?

Because, this is how we have always taught. Since this is the way we have always done it, how can we possibly do it any other way.

I was talking to a colleague at the College I am currently teaching at, and he said that when he tried to move to real, student centred learning a few years ago, the college administration called him in and let him know that if he wasn’t standing up in front of the students for a required amount of time, he was not fulfilling his contract.

I taught an advanced research methods class at the local University this past semester, and I taught it the way I have taught my Science in Education class in the past using blogs and talks. I was worried that the teaching method might not work this time, because the topic is (by most accounts) extremely uninteresting. I couldn’t have been more wrong! The students loved the class, and they loved to learn. This was research methods and stats, and the students let me know at the end of the class that none of them had ever particularly wanted to take the class, but it would be good for them to have taken it when they applied for post-graduate places. Now, they tell me that methods are important, and they feel like they want to know more about them. However, a good friend, who has taught there for years, warned me that if the University administration find out I wasn’t standing up teaching for the requisite hours each week, I could lose my contract.

There has been more change in education in the last 5 years than at any time in the last century, and yet, nothing has changed. It is as though the internet has never happened in the world of education.

I don’t get it.

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