I’ve developed a greater interest in recent years in how pedagogy works at colleges and universities. While student loan debt and the value of a liberal arts degree in a STEM world are topics on everyone’s minds (so the media would suggest), a deafening silence surrounds the question of whether faculty in higher education are effective teachers.
My gut feeling, based on my own experiences with higher ed plus some very limited observation and basic reading, is that higher ed pedagogy is very broken. Subject specialists with PhD’s in research fields may have little to no aptitude for teaching, while qualified educators who’ve honed their craft (usually in a secondary classroom) are often barred from higher ed because they do not possess a doctoral degree (an expensive and time-consuming credential).
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently released a report on Faculty Trends. There’s much to discuss there, but I want to focus on the question of technology in the classroom. Inside Higher Ed offers a great piece that sums up the report’s findings and offers some counter conclusions. Take a moment to read:
Take-Away From the Gates Report on Faculty | College Ready Writing @insidehighered.
In brief, the Gates Foundation reports that the rate of tech adoption in colleges is very low, as expected. Faculty are aware of innovative teaching methods, like flipped classrooms or hybrid courses that incorporate online discussions with face to face teaching, but the majority of faculty aren’t using them.
The Inside Higher Ed article highlights two important reasons why higher ed faculty are not as innovative as their peers in K-12:
1. Faculty are far more influenced by their peers in the discipline than anyone else, and some disciplines are less open to technological innovation.
2. Campus infrastructure tends to devalue anything that isn’t STEM or business, so many faculty in other fields are teaching in outdated classrooms.
My own classroom experience was located in a small school with few resources. I didn’t really mind the challenge; I think scarcity can breed creative problem solving. But the technology roadblocks were maddening. If I had a dollar for every time my attempt to take students into the computer lab to do some research turned into a frustrated pile of kids and teacher clustered around the only working computer, I’d have a retirement account.
Higher ed pedagogy is under-addressed. While I’m not a fan of the pressure coming from the DOE on universities toward outcome-based assessment, perhaps one upside will be attention on professional development for all college faculty.