What are key breakthroughs needed to bring academic practice closer to university teaching?

I’m still pondering a series of presentations and discussions with Randy Bass (Georgetown University) in which he described the ‘problem of learning’ as composed in large part of the disconnect between what we so-called academic practitioners do an the university versus what we teach in university classrooms. The issue Randy raised intersects with Wesch’s call for greater relevance between the external world and the world created within classroom walls. The problem is that we teach basic physiology or psychology or EE, but what we teach is distilled, abstract, and frankly disconnected (read “boring and irrelevant”) to much of the lives of the students trying to take this in.

Naturally, for the intrinsically motivated learner, the Hippocratic Oath applies – as long as we do no harm they’ll learn anything.  But that’s not most of our students. Most of our students are waiting to be fired up and become intrinsic learners. They’re saying “make me see the relevance here. Why should I spend my time on this topic/exercise/problem set???  Of course there are points attached and so one answer is the punishment response – if you don’t it’ll cost you. Fair enough.  But that’s not motivation – that’s castigation.

As Randy noted, there remains the problem that some stuff you just have to roll up your sleeves and ‘learn’ – it’s not always obvious or clear that fundamental concepts in math, physics, whatever, are able to be contextualized in ways that make them directly relevant to contemporary issues. Some things ARE hard, and we need to be honest, up front and direct about that.  It’s when we’re not that the novice learning, lacking context otherwise, can’t see the difference between things that really ARE relevant and connected to their lives and when they aren’t, but need to be learned anyway.

This continues to bubble in my thinking. No great insights here, I’m afraid. But I’ll keep you posted.

— pdl–

About longpd

I'm a senior scholar at Georgetown University, in CNDLS, a technologist and lapsed evolutionary biologist with an incandescent passion for new modes of seeing and learning.
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