University Business - February 2009 - (Page 21)

INDEPENDENT OUTLOOK The Cost of Innovation Thoughts on teaching and learning and the bottom line By Richard Ekman HE PREVAILING MODEL for innovation in teaching is drawn from the conviction of many funders that any teaching innovation in teaching requires faculty to be released from normal duties to try something new. Campus leaders are assumed to want to have it both ways—maintaining the old ways of doing business while the grant-funded experiment takes place. But in a tight financial environment, those at institutions of higher education are less likely to behave as grant-makers assume. A faculty member will introduce a classroom innovation right after becoming excited about its potential benefits. IHEs are equally quick to abandon existing practices when something new looks promising, well before proof of efficacy is established. e true cost of innovation, then, is not likely to be the cost of keeping two systems in simultaneous operation but rather the cost of informing and then persuading people to try something new. Another problem with relying on natural experiments is that comparisons of their results with longstanding practices rarely present sharp contrasts. So many students perform at only mediocre levels in most courses (old and new) that faculty observers usually cannot find evidence of a compelling motive for change. It was only when faculty began to fault the passive and dull pedagogy of large lecture halls that small classes with interactive discussions came to prominence. Senior capstone courses and comprehensive exams arose after faculty began blaming the overly flexible, informal pedagogy of small seminars for failing to uphold student performance standards. Today’s individualized, asynchronous instruction through technology seemed appealing, T Lectures aren’t inherently bad, and seminars aren’t inherently good. first, as a corrective to the more limited flexibility of any instruction in groups. In the next few years, a desire for greater cost-effectiveness may shape curricular innovation. But before all college teaching is converted to large lecture halls requiring only one instructor for, say, 200 students, we ought to ask how much students learn in that setting in comparison with others. Do seminars cause people to learn more? Does a big investment in instructional technology make sense if it is not implemented “at scale”? Graduates should be expected to demonstrate that they can learn through a variety of formats: lecture, seminar, independent study, internship, guided research, and online course. Lectures aren’t inherently bad, and seminars aren’t inherently good. An education received entirely through any one instruction mode doesn’t prepare students for the many ways in which information is received and must be presented in the postgraduation world. e most effective forms of instruction are sometimes inexpensive, and the least effective are sometimes very expen- sive. We are all familiar with courses that use internet-based exercises in which the online material is simply a static textbook to be consulted and read online. Except for faster searching, the technology’s capability is not exploited for any of its distinctive features—dynamic capabilities for simulation or modeling, use of images (especially moving images), sound mixed with text, or graphical representation of complex data. A student learns little in these courses that couldn’t be learned equally well from a printed book. CONCEPTS AND FACTS Some of our ambivalence may come from the contemporary tendency to emphasize broad concepts to the exclusion of facts. Yet facts are not the enemy of true learning. While an understanding of principles may be the ultimate goal of every course in the liberal arts curriculum, the path to the goal inevitably goes through details. One college history course with which I’m familiar requires students to read an entire textbook in the first two weeks, then to take a short-answer test of 200 questions (120 correct answers is passing). e test and scores are then discarded and the real business of the course begins. A professor of English I know makes students memorize poetry—not because memorization is the goal but because a residue of remembered poems in students’ minds makes possible the discussion of more interesting questions. Our focus on concepts often means that teachers who are sticklers for details are not highly regarded by their peers. e small-college science teacher who Richard Ekman is president of e Council of Independent Colleges, February 2009 | 21

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - February 2009

University Business - February 2009
Editor's Note
College Index
Company Index
Advisory Board
Behind the News
Sense of Place
Independent Outlook
Wireless Windfall
Share and Share Alike
Achieving the Turnaround
Internet Technology
What's New
End Note

University Business - February 2009