Sunday, February 12, 2006

The point of college/university is what?

Refreshing report in the Guardian (UK) -- "Another Hard Day in the Library" -- earlier this month from Germaine Greer and other academics about how they really spent their university days and the long-term benefits of NOT forcing students to attend lectures and tutorials (as Oxford is threatening to do via contracts with the students).

I always felt college was mainly four interesting walls within which to grow for four years. Greer says it better:

Kids don't go to university to sit at the feet of their elders and betters; they go to university to meet each other.... Because this is what uni is, the first time young people have their own collective space to organise or disorganise as they please.... Dragooning undergraduates would be to delay their maturation still further, so that they never achieve the autonomy on which our whole political system should be based.

Made me think about the importance of young people having "their own collective space" online to "organise or disorganise as they please" -- and the need for human attention structures. Lanham in his article on general education in the digital age (see yesterday's posting) makes the point that "considered on the largest scale, the undergraduate curriculum is an attention-structure."

Greer also argues that incompetent teachers are often far more valuable than good ones -- because they make you react to their incompetence -- and hence move you further along towards your own competence.
"Surely not!" is a more salutary reaction to a statement from a teacher than "Precisely". As I used to say to my students, "Confusion is the most productive state of mind. Respect your confusions. Don't let me waft them away."

Carol Kuhlthau would surely agree.

Greer also makes a case for lectures being replaced by digital multimedia versions:
In 2006, it would make more sense to issue the lectures on DVD, and spend the hour in the lecture room dealing with student's questions. In my day, students were supposed to be critical listeners.... The very best teacher is the one who really enjoys being made to look a fool by a student.

Lectures are a misshapen survival of medieval pedagogy, which took authority as absolute and understood the teacher's sole duty to be that of expounding it. Lectures have no place in a system based on critical thinking....

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