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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Experts

Do you want to be taught math by a mathematician, in other words, by someone actually engaged in doing math, or by a math teacher? Do you want to be taught poetry writing by a poet, or by a teacher of poetry who has read a textbook on teaching Creative Writing? Do you want to learn history from someone who does historical research, who is engaged in finding out answers to the kind of questions historians ask, or by someone who has learned enough history to teach it at a lower level?

Are these all the same question? Does the level of the class matter? Your reason for studying the material? At what point does pedagogical expertise become less important than knowledge of the subject matter? If ever?

Is there a fundamental difference between high school and university instruction? Could we introduce the university ideal at a lower level of instruction, so that the student would care what the quality of mind is in a high school teacher? Or is this kind of concern going to be increasingly rare even in the university, where you don't start caring about that until the first two years of "developmental" education are done with? If we cease caring about the quality of mind in the instructor, then will this eventually become the norm even in graduate education? After all, there we are training instructors, and those instructors need only know enough of the subject matter to transmit it to the next generation efficiently and unambiguously?!? @#%^^#@^^%@#%!!!

2 comments:

profacero said...

Do you want to be taught math by a mathematician, in other words, by someone actually engaged in doing math, or by a math teacher?...

*Most people would take the math teacher.

Are these all the same question? Does the level of the class matter? Your reason for studying the material? At what point does pedagogical expertise become less important than knowledge of the subject matter? If ever?

* Most people would say it only matters if the student is doing a research degree. Some M.A.s but mostly the PhD.

Is there a fundamental difference between high school and university instruction?

* Most people would say no.

Could we introduce the university ideal at a lower level of instruction, so that the student would care what the quality of mind is in a high school teacher?

* The actual trend is the opposite: college credit for high school work.

Or is this kind of concern going to be increasingly rare even in the university, where you don't start caring about that until the first two years of "developmental" education are done with? If we cease caring about the quality of mind in the instructor, then will this eventually become the norm even in graduate education? After all, there we are training instructors, and those instructors need only know enough of the subject matter to transmit it to the next generation efficiently and unambiguously?!? @#%^^#@^^%@#%!!!

* It already is close to this.

On those first two years: there is a *fundamental* difference between schools with active PhD programs in all disciplines and schools without. Because you cannot have research faculty giving all that basic knowledge in the first year or two of college, there are not enough hours in the day, it is so labor intensive. (That is why they do not have to publish as much in SLACs.) So you either have instructors or graduate students and there is a world of difference between an instructor with a weak M.A. who is teaching 7 courses and a good graduate student engaged in research and only teaching 1-2 courses.

This is also why such schools are better places to *do the first two years*.

Silvia Straka said...

As a university educator in a professional program (social work), I recently was pleasantly surprised when students shared how much they like having me talk about my research. Perhaps it makes them realize that they are being taught by people who actually do the research and author the articles they read -- this is something that distinguishes university from high school.

I have just moved from a large, research intensive university to a tiny, rural university. Many of these students think that university is like a continuation of high school and I'm realizing that I need to be *much* more explicit about the differences. The university skills set, IMO, requires learning how to think critically, how to research and get one's own answers to questions, being able to assess knowledge sources, experiencing and valuing deep learning, developing excellent oral and written communication skills, assessing competing knowledge claims, unpacking discourses, etc. In other words, I want to equip them to be lifelong, self-directed learners. Although this should be starting to happen in high school, by university, this should be a clear focus. So I do believe that being an expert and a researcher is important for university educators, because even for students who will never go on to grad school, we are equipping them to think and communicate more clearly, whatever they do in their lives.

As an expert, I also bring an "insider" view of certain topics. I can discuss the nuances and bring details of my research that bring a topic to life in a new and more personal way.

Finally, as a researcher I bring a passion for asking questions and finding my own answers. That passion is contagious. And I can bring it to their level of learning, by developing assignments designed to spark their own curiosity and hone the skills to deepen their understanding of the issue. That's powerful, once it is internalized.

I definitely advocate for having experts teach undergraduate students, since university education should be about much more than the transmission of knowledge about subject matter.