Higher education flight from teaching will continue

A new book by an education historian at the University of Pennsylvania charges that research rather than teaching is rewarded in higher education, and that needs to change (“ ‘The Amateur Hour’ Review: Hire Teachers for Higher Education,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 15).  Yet there is absolutely nothing new about this indictment.  In 1988, Charles J. Sykes made the same point in “Prof Scam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education.”

The fact is that lecturing, which is the least effective way of teaching, remains the predominant method.  Pedagogy is derided as beneath the dignity of professors, who believe that telling is teaching.  That’s a pity because hearing a professor drone on while paying thousands of dollars to be subjected to the ordeal is outrageous.

Little will change until instruction is given equal weight to research.  Until then, salaries will continue to rise in inverse proportion to teaching loads at virtually all elite schools.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

4 Replies to “Higher education flight from teaching will continue”

  1. At least two mostly separate issues here — 1) teaching vs. research, and 2) how to teach effectively, lecturing vs. X.

    Agree that colleges today are giving too much weight to a professor’s research value and not enough to the professor’s teaching value. This is probably driven in part by the college’s desire to cash in on $ that the professor’s research brings to the college. It may also be driven by the fact that it is very easy to measure how much $ Prof X’s research brings to the college but it is very difficult to measure (fairly) how good Prof X is as a teacher. Student surveys obviously have huge caveats + there is always the halo effect, whereby a prof with a great reputation gets higher ratings than a prof with no reputation or a bad reputation in situations where an objective, informed reviewer would give both profs the same rating.


  2. Labor Lawyer: Teaching is indeed harder to measure than research, but it is supposed to be the reason that students go to college in the first place. Lectures can be just as well read online than in a classroom. Why spend thousands of dollars to sit passively taking notes?


  3. I’ll defer to your expertise re the most effective teaching techniques. I agree that virtual lectures can be 99% as effective as in-person lectures. But, it does not follow that lectures are not the most effective teaching technique for many courses, just that there is no need for the students to be sitting in the lecture hall rather than at home (or in the dorm) watching the computer monitor.

    Obviously, students go to college for many purposes, only one of which is to learn course material. Even assuming that they could learn the course material just as effectively from their parents’ home, most of the other college purposes require that the students physically go to college. And, of course, some (probably most) courses are more effectively taught if there is at least some non-lecture component — something as simple as weekly small classes taught by grad students supplementing the professor’s lectures or even just talking face-to-face with other students taking the course.

    For many courses that I took in college in which the professor lectured, that technique was fine with me. I would rather have had the professor lecture than have a grad student lead a small class instead of the professor’s lecture and I definitely would not have wanted to largely waste professor lecture time having the professor listen to/respond to extended questions/arguments from my fellow undergraduates. Obviously, this does not apply to lab-type courses or to courses such as creative writing or public speaking where individualized feedback and/or students’ active participation is necessary.


  4. Labor Lawyer: Lecturing, by its very nature, requires a passive audience. That has been demonstrated to have limited learning potential because students essentially become stenographers. The more active responses in instruction the better.


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