Sunday, October 21, 2018

Efficiency Needed for Higher Education

In A Higher Ideal for Higher Education, Dr Patrick Blessinger, of  St. John's University, argues for humanism, in an expanded system. However, I suggest this will not be enough to produce the globalized and democratized world Dr Blessinger envisages. As an example we have seen the world's most eminent scientists warn of an approaching climate disaster, backed up with overwhelming evidence, but ignored by the world's governments. Idealism is not enough, we need teachers trained in cost effective course design, in expanding higher education.

Dr Blessinger argues for the "... integration of teaching, learning and research ...". However, integration requires more than professors who leave their lab occasionally to do some part time teaching. Achieving this integration requires academics who teach to be formally trained, tested and qualified in education. This also requires specialists in packaging education to make it cost effective.

Expanding higher education requires changes to address the vocational needs of the population. Education needs to be more accessible, and cost effective. This can be done through proven vocational and distance education techniques. Unfortunately, many academics have been reluctant to embrace these approaches, despite the evidence this is effective.

Recently I returned from two weeks in Sri Lanka and Singapore, speaking on education at conferences and visiting universities. I saw many impressive campuses and dedicated staff. However, these campuses cannot meet the demand for higher education in the region. Even if enough campuses could be built, teachers could not be found to staff them. Even if the staff could be found, the students, their families, the community and governments could not afford to fund this expansion of education.

We require different approaches to the traditional campus education. These approaches exist and are proven from decades of experience, backed up by research, but academics are still reluctant to embrace new ways of teaching and learning.

Students learn best when they work on a practical problem, in a team, and ideally, in the workplace. Academics acknowledge this approach when it comes to higher degree research students: get them in the lab, or out in the field, working on their project. However, academics are reluctant to embrace this approach for undergraduate and postgraduate non-research-track students. The temptation is to have students in a lecture theater and doing examinations: these are just about the worst ways to teach and test, but are easy, cheap, and familar.

Part of the problem is the sheer complexity and cost of having thousands of students at a university in teams working on projects. But we have the pedagogy and technology to do this now. Academics need to learn how to do this, and I suggest the best way to learn is to do it. We need to have academics as students using the teaching techniques we want them to use.

My discipline of computing has the fortunate problem of too many students and not enough instructors. I suggest we make a virtue of necessity and train professionals from the discipline to teach. We can use mobile learning to provide computer professionals with micro-credentials in teaching.

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