Information Scarcity – Students

Although faculty and the institutions strive to keep the information scarcity model of information alive and kicking for their own benefit, students are just as resistant to change as the other two. This seems paradoxical as students are the primary beneficiary of a move to an information abundance model.

We know that students gain little or no benefit, when it comes to learning, from the way education happens today (lecturing). In a study done in 1980 showed that students at the end of their course scored only 20% higher than students who didn’t take the course. Seven years later that difference had dropped to 10%. Another study showed that the drop in performance in a test taken at the end of a class and a test taken on the same material a week later saw the raw scores drop on average from 42% of the material to just 20% of the material.

And yet, students demand lectures. They believe that a lecture is the proper way to learn in university. Every time I have supported a lecturer in trying something that will actually facilitate learning (and even experienced this myself), the students erupt with fury at the idea that someone is doing something different from a lecture.Thanks to social media, I have read for myself the kinds of things they say. In one case, what my colleague received from the students was “You should lose your job. Your job is to tell us what we need to memorize in order to pass the test and you aren’t doing it“. This comment was followed by almost 200 others echoing the same sentiment (there were 350 students enrolled in the class).

I was teaching at a local college and was hauled onto the carpet three times during one semester and chastened for using methods other than the “read them the powerpoint slides” kind of teaching that is so prevalent today. This dressing down was instigated by a group of students who demanded a more traditional approach. When I suggested that I was doing this so that the students would actually learn, I was told that their learning was not my concern and my primary responsibility was to keep them happy.

I believe that the primary driver for this resistance to change comes from the reasons that students enroll in higher education in the first place. In the 2016  Gallup Purdue Index (GPI) found that 86% of students want a higher education degree so they can get a better job (up from the 73% average for 12000 to 2009). If 83% of the students are there for a paper that says they were there then learning is an obstacle rather than an opportunity.

Lectures (and the wait to regurgitate stuff for an exam) is the traditional way to do it and subscribes to the information scarcity model of learning. Besides, attending lectures and cramming for a test is relatively easy. When all you want is a degree so you can get a better job, why do any more than you have to?

There are very few students in today’s mass education system who are there to learn. As a senior colleague at my former place of work said, “If we don’t ask too much of them, they won’t ask too much of us, and we’ll all be happy.”

How could we take something as natural and wonderful as learning and turn it into education?


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