Friday, April 06, 2007

Professorial Knowledge or Sound Bytes?

Attempting to teach ten years of theory in one 14 week semester introductory course, is futile. Isn't it? One is reduced to summarizing the entire career of a brilliant researcher with...'sound bytes.' 20 years knowledge + experience = 10 minutes lecture time. Usually accompanied by an online video which is 6 minutes in length. When you're attempting to deliver about 50 summaries of theoretical concepts in 14 weeks, you have no choice but to present ridiculously dumbed-down versions that are scintillating within three bullet marks. The Powerpoint presentations must be interesting enough to be memorable and convey the basic concepts.

I thought this teaching dilemma might be a symptom of today's technology/internet-based, ADD/ADHD affected pupil who's watched too much MTV, and is familiar with an equally frenzied teaching styles. Long gone are chalkboards - today's classrooms have dry eraser markers and video projectors connected to several media, including the Internet, video tape and DVD players. Students want to be entertained, not informed. Professors have blogs or class web sites, Web CT is used to deliver class knowledge, present projects and grades. 'Forgetabout' (use a NY accent) true education - it's all about the student. They now have online evaluations for professors, both internally at the university, and externally - in the form of Careers die and fluorish based on these less than scientific methods of evaluation. If you get a hot tamale, you're more likely to receive tenure. One stupid student's complaint can finish you.

When I think back to my own education as an undergraduate, I realize - nothing's really changed. In art history, we were introduced to entire artist careers within the blink of a slide. Or three. We were given 'sound bytes' by the professor, just as we are today. Art history lectures tend to be introductory courses, so they fall into a different category than 'research' classes.

In most forums today, teaching is about delivering 'sound bytes.' It's up to the students to fill in the blanks. Fortunately, most professors realize this, and offer additional research articles and links regarding the topic (not that introductory students tend to read these.) But, I still pine for the days when professors were allowed to be wholly subjective - they deliver research from their own area of interest, and then try to inspire their students to investigate a similar tangent.

Such professors were hired based upon their own research merits - they have specific knowledge that needs to be imparted. The professors photocopy (not find links on the internet, or provide Google PDFs) articles. They show their own work.

This is the method in which I was taught. I had brilliant professors, with great careers, who shared with us their personal knowledge and direction. It didn't mean that I had to follow in their direction - it meant that I could fashion a direction of my own, based upon my personal subjective directions. It didn't mean they had to present to me 'sound bytes' - they truly offered a professorial direction, one that was based on personal experience.

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