Is the University Education System Broken?
And can it be fixed?
Everyday I enter a lecture room, pick a seat, sit down, and get ready to watch a slide presentation. It could be a slide presentation on the theory of money in economics or a presentation on how to conjugate the verb "avere" which means "to have" in Italian. Everyday I am walking into a classroom and watching thousands of slides to learn and understand the material, and I have been doing this for almost 3 years now.
Three years is a long time. I have completely mastered the university educational system, well at least from a student's perspective. Here is a typical procedure of the lecture:
Once you've sat down, the professor will introduce the day's topic and will go through the lecture slides. Occasionally, they may pause to ask if anyone has questions—if not, we continue to watch the slide show. Depending on your professor, they might add pop quizzes just to make the slide presentation more engaging but mostly, a lecture requires you to sit and listen to the professor read the lecture slides to you.
I think the university education system is broken and I'll point out to three examples which support my argument. These are not new arguments, but they circulate a lot among education discourse. I have attempted to bring up some potential solutions to "fix" the system.
- Professors are not teachers. Teachers are not professors. When I was in high school, I was taught by teachers, individuals who were trained how to teach and manage the classroom. Their training involves understanding child development, learning theories and the cognitive connections to learning (i.e. the psychology behind learning). Professors on the other hand, are individuals who possess in depth knowledge through spending years of study in that field. They continually do research and are generally up to date with current discourse in that field of study. It makes sense for the university to let professors teach at university because students would like to learn from those who have extensive knowledge on any subject. However, professors are not teachers meaning they were not trained on how the process of learning works and how that applies to teaching or lecturing. Suggestion: Professors should be trained to teach, not lecture. What's the point of bringing experts to teach in university if their form of deliverance is incompetent?
- Lecture rooms are boring. They are dark halls filled with chairs and a front stage where professors present to students and bombard them with information about real world issues. What if students could tackle those real-world issues presently instead of later when they graduate? When I was in high school in geography class, our teacher took us outside of the classroom to the top of the mountain (our school was on a mountain) so that we could walk down the mountain and trace the profile of a river nearby from its upper course to lower course profile. That way, we were able to make practical connections of the river processes explained in the book and what was in front of us. Imagine, if during your finance class, your professor organised a visit to the local bank, so you witness all the finance theory at work? Educators call this Place based learning and I think it is powerful. Suggestion: Implement place-based learning in the university curriculum. Though it can be costly and time consuming to implement, place-based learning can give students access to what their future careers might look like.
- Lecture slides are useless. I would rather read the textbook by myself than show up to a slide presentation (but I need attendance marks, so I show up anyways). Lecture slides are even more useless because they don't help you to prepare for assessment a.k.a exams and tests. The assessment framework in education is poor at all levels, from kindergarten to university level. The current assessment framework only gives students feedback at the end of the learning period (i.e. end of term exams, projects). This is problematic because learning is a process and requires continuous feedback. For example, in high school, we used to receive "midterm indicators," a feedback report on your academic performance up until the first half of the school term. If your teacher was concerned with your performance thus far, you would know about it and hopefully make changes in the following half term. The point is we're tested too late in university to even care, whereas if assessments were at regular intervals, students can be signaled early on learning gaps (if any) in their learning curve. Suggestion: Implement early feedback systems as part of assessment framework. Also, semantics is very important here—students’ understanding should be assessed and evaluated but not tested.
It looks like high school and university have a lot to learn from each other and above all, students need to give input on how to improve the system.
P.S. University needs to embrace failure more than it does right now, but that’s a topic for another day.