Purdue U for Understatement? One for COD and Meg

27 04 2009

“Mr. Karpicke, of Purdue, agrees that scholars should be sensitive to real-world complexities. ”


Seriously, this is for all Thinking Parents, not just to pick on Purdue but on all college professors, so lofty in their scholarly certainty about what students (literally, studiers) should be doing and how they should be doing it . . .if the masters don’t really know, is College just some elaborate professional hazing ritual, some sort of scholastic alchemy?

Mr. Daniel points to a disheartening 2004 study that found that some features of contemporary textbooks — prominent subject headings, questions and outlines at the beginning of chapters, and so on — actually seem to hinder some students’ learning, because students read only the bells and whistles and skip the main text.

Many of those textbook features were based on scientific studies of learning — but putting them into real-world practice may have backfired, at least for some students.



20 responses

27 04 2009

I found textbooks in general to be an impediment to learning.

27 04 2009

And even if all the stuff in all the science textbooks, say, is the right stuff and students need to learn it to be scientists — teachers and professors who somehow mastered that knowledge themselves and now are being paid to impart it, shouldn’t remain such vague mystics about how to ply the trade of teaching it, should they? It certainly calls into question education textbooks!

This fuzzy floundering around about researching how to “teach” has been going on my whole career in education. Could be that, worse that just being ineffective but doing no harm, they may actively be contaminating “study” in the process of claiming to assist it, with advice that’s the equivalent of medical leeching and not knowing to wash their own hands before interfering with natural processes . . .

27 04 2009

At JJ’s Power of Story University, this will be the entire curriculum: unlearning what you think you know with certainty and are wrong about! 😉

So if JJ’s PSU should ever have assigned reading, it will be something like this:
“Ten Principles for a Black Swan-Robust World”:

Principle #Three —
“People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus.”

27 04 2009

‘scientific studies of learning’ means people with Ph.ds in education.

Notice that the practical work came out of work in psychology.

Sorry I consider a Ph.d in education to be the last place I’d look for practical advice.

27 04 2009

Why couldn’t an education doctorate mean psychology too though, particularly cognitive psychology? That’s what I thought they were discussing. . .what is Howard Gardner’s degree “in” for example (shouldn’t I know? — but I don’t remember ever noticing)

27 04 2009
Rolfe Schmidt

I can believe that students rely on these “bells and whistles” and skip reading the main text. But I’ve also seen these tools used very effectively, posing a set of problems, encouraging the reader that solutions are in sight, and making it hard to put the book down.

I don’t think the bells and whistles are the real problem — I think the real problem is that students are not actually interested in learning the subject.

Students see these handy outlines, read the fundamental questions that they know they will be asked about, and stop working when they think they know enough to snow their grader. If they actually wanted to learn, they would read the text.

Unless, of course, the text is no good. Sadly this often seems to be the case.

27 04 2009
Crimson Wife

“is College just some elaborate professional hazing ritual, some sort of scholastic alchemy?”

When I’m in a cynical mood, I feel that college is not much more than an ultra-expensive country club where the main benefit is the social connections one makes.

27 04 2009

…prominent subject headings, questions and outlines at the beginning of chapters, and so on — actually seem to hinder some students’ learning,…

I suppose it depends on the text – and how “learning” is defined. Often I “learn” more from headings, outlines, discussion questions posed, etc than I do from plodding through a book’s “main text,” which can be excruciatingly monotonous and repetitive. Again, it depends on the book but, generally, I find that “bells and whistles” can be great tools for organizing information in a useful way and presenting it in a way that respects my time.

I’ve also been influenced by homeschooling, which has taught me to think of texts as handy “spines” to use thoughtfully – not holy books to which I’m beholden.

27 04 2009

Meg and all, see what you think about the chair of Columbia’s Religion Department, whose op-ed in today’s NYT says it is university study as a mass-production system, not merely PhD production much less the “education” PhD only, that’s unsustainably impractical. He compares it to Wall Street in needing reconception followed by a complete restructure and effective oversight, and indicts the university as we know it for producing a product for which there’s no market, developing ever-narrower and more fragmented skills for which there’s diminishing demand, all at rapidly rising cost —
“End the University as We Know It”

Which would explain Judith Warner’s blogging, Major in Stress!

I hear his five suggested reforms as about creative, connected systems thinking and I could go for it.

“It would be far more effective to bring together people working on questions of . . . politics, history, economics, anthropology, sociology, literature, art, religion and philosophy to engage in comparative analysis of common problems. . .

It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.

Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.”

He ends with:
“For many years, I have told students, ‘Do not do what I do; rather, take whatever I have to offer and do with it what I could never imagine doing and then come back and tell me about it.’
My hope is that colleges and universities will be shaken out of their complacency and will open academia to a future we cannot conceive.”

27 04 2009

Note re Gardner – still looking, he has scads of credentials but it seems likely his doctorate was in developmental psychology though he meant to study history toward a a juris doctor — he’s a good example of this connected, interdisciplinary crossover to work on bigger and more demanding human issues than mastering established content in a departmental canon.

Whatever his own doctorate is in, his students are apparently getting “education” doctorates?

“Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A.
Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the
Harvard Graduate School of Education. “

27 04 2009
Crimson Wife

According to Dr. Gardner’s CV he’s got a PhD. in Social Psychology (Developmental Psychology) from Harvard. He also studied Philosophy and Sociology at the London School of Economics (never knew LSE had coursework in those subjects) and did a postdoc at Harvard Medical School’s aphasia research center.

27 04 2009
Crimson Wife

Now why didn’t that link work? Trying again: http://www.howardgardner.com/Papers/papers.html

27 04 2009

Maybe it’s just me but I am very glad to hear LSE has coursework in those subjects! 🙂

27 04 2009

Wonder what he’d have under the proposed broad inquiries named above?

Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water

Nobody would have “education” or psychology because that would all be in “Mind” and “Information” and “Networks”, then I guess you’d add in your own other areas, like I would wind up having Language, Media and Law connected to my Mind/Information study?

27 04 2009
Computer Program to Take on Jeopardy « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Program to Take on Jeopardy 27 04 2009 If we don’t really know how to teach kids like humans, maybe we can at least teach computers like […]

28 04 2009

Speaking of “bells and whistles” being helpful or harmful to learning, maybe it’s not just a textbook issue. What about bells and whistles in the whole environment?

Colleges Offer No-Frills Degrees in Christian Science Monitor:
For some, like Crane, the program is appealing not just for its cost, but also because it lacks the distractions of campus life. “So much of [the residential experience] is focused on partying, and I’m not into that,” she says.

The students in Salem gather four mornings a week for five hours. That includes classes, meetings with professors and advisers, and a break. Most head off for jobs in the afternoon. The courses and most of the professors are the same as those on the main campus.

. . .With its dedicated classrooms and computer labs, the setting provides some advantages, says Christina Hitchcock, who teaches literature in Salem and Manchester.

“On the main campus, despite the bells and whistles,” she says, “classroom space is extraordinarily limited. It’s harder to get your kids into a computer lab.” . . .

28 04 2009
Crimson Wife

Your CSM link points to an article about why people switching their religious affiliations choose to do so. Interesting, but not the article on no-frills degrees.

28 04 2009

Strange but true; this is the right link
(I’ll leave the other as is, because you’re right, it IS interesting!)

29 04 2009

Meg and CW reminded me that it’s not what we call the education researcher’s degree that matters. It’s whether the chief research concern is real individual children, or not.

Here’s the Real Concern If We’re Smart:

. . . This educational research was high-minded, meant to help children generally with speech problems. Whether it contributed anything to that goal is debatable, but it did apparently harm, not help, the specific children it involved. Children who — talk about Power of Story! — literally had no chance for any form of parent-directed or parent-protected education, because they were orphans.

Where is the accountability for what was taught and learned in this “story?” The radio says orphans often were used by this university for such human experiments, precisely because there were no parents taking primary responsibility for the best interests of each specific child, as opposed to this generalized “whatever is for the social good and the benefit of my own reputation and/or guilt assuage” approach to working with children.

I’m not sure how far working with children has come since 1939 . .

29 04 2009

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