This past weekend, I attended one of those “Come-see-what-you-might-be-buying -your-kid” open houses at the local university. I wanted to go for several reasons, but one of them was to see how the teaching and learning environment of the University had changed in the 30 or so years since I had been an undergrad.
After an hour or so of being welcomed by a surrogate of the University President where we kept being told that the University was 12th in the nation for something or another, as well as being told that really, it doesn’t cost THAT MUCH (immediately followed by a woman that said you had to pay a lot for the privilege of parking your car but that the farther away you parked, the less it cost), we were shuffled off to the college of our children’s choice to take a grand tour of where our kids would be spending the next four years or so of their lives.
Much to my surprise, my son chose the College of Business Administration. So off we went, following the fresh faced student volunteers that carried a large sign on the end of a stick, protest style: “College of Business Administration.”
After a hike across the campus, we were ushered into the Business Ed building, which, while not exactly new, is one of the newish buildings on the campus.
Here is a promotional video they made about themselves:
We took a tour of the facility, which, in my mind , looked pretty much like EVERY SINGLE OTHER facility across the campus: Large rooms, lots of chairs stuck in lecture-style settings (We were told that this was the best way to teach large numbers of students! Oooh, Strike one!)
We were shown three, count them three, computer labs that we were told were “State of the art and that pretty much anything you would want to do you could do in these labs.” The labs looked like typical 1995-2005 labs, with little or no room for collaboration, discussion, or even mobile devices. I didn’;t see an interactive whiteboard, although it might have been there. According to the college website “The CALC Lab, located on the third floor of the College, includes three microcomputer laboratories and a fully equipped computer classroom. This modern facility serves as the focal point for computer, audiovisual, and multimedia-based learning.” Hmm. They are really proud of their computer labs. I wonder if they ever heard of iPads or smart phones? Is the multimedia-based learning just sit-n-git where kids sit in front of a computer screen and watch some pre-taped lecture? Couldn’t tell from the amount of time we were there, and most of the computers were turned off anyways.
After the lab tour, we were all shuffled into one of the large lecture rooms (305?) to listen to the Associate Dean regale us on the tales of COBA (College of Business Administration.) The gentleman, who has been at the University for 25 years, but according to him, not teaching for six, went on and on about how important companies come to the college looking to hire. (While this SOUNDS impressive, actually, important companies pretty much go to any college looking to hire. But I digress.)
After he spoke about how excited they were about Walmart (which we heard about at least six times in the 90 minutes we were in the building) and ESPN (three times), he asked if there were any questions. Of course, the kids in the audience had no idea what was going on, having probably never ever set foot in a College much less a College of Business Administration before. No one asked a question, The few parents that were there were silent.
So I thought I would break the ice:
“I have read that businesses are looking for students that can be problem solvers, that can think out of the box. Those that can think creatively. What are you doing specifically as a college to teach those skills to your students?”
This seemed to have caught him completely off guard, because he really did not have an answer, other than to say that the student organizations did a lot of competitions. (The implication of course, was that if you didn’t belong to a student organization, you were screwed as far as any type of creative learning goes.) He could not even point to a single faculty member that maybe just maybe did things a bit out of the ordinary. One would think that creativity and problem solving would be a number one priority in ANY college of business anywhere, just based on the literature that is out, but he couldn’t point to anything specific that honed students skills in these areas. Was that really preparing them for the job market?
I then followed-up the first question with this:
“When I attended UTEP, the classes looked a lot like these, perhaps with the addition of overhead projectors. How has teaching changed in the years since I attended back in the mid 1980’s? Do you do any e-texts? Online learning? Mobile learning?” (I dare not mention having a flipped classroom, as it might have caused his head to explode.”
This time, the answer from the guy that had been at the school for 25 years was “Well, we have a lot of old guys like me that pretty much lecture. Students have to come to lectures. There are a lot of lectures. There might be some etexts, I think some of the books have a digital component, BUT WE MOSTLY LECTURE. And we have Blackboard which some of the professors use.” He then asked one almost asleep student “How do they teach YOU?” The kid, surprised said something like “Well, they lecture us..” The professor looked around satisfied AS IF THAT MADE the case for lecture-as-primary-information-source THE viable learning alternative. Sigh. At least he was kinda honest.
Chalkboards and lectures and paper textbooks oh my. Add a projector on the ceiling, and you have chalkboards and lectures and paper texts with the internet. Yawn.
(Here is a pict of one of the lecture rooms…notice they are still using chalk!)
Essentially what he was saying was this: In the 30 YEARS since I was in college, nothing has changed. Students are still chained to stationary seats, still having a sage-on-the-stage deliver lessons with little or no interaction. In fact, the only true interaction demonstrated was again, through the student groups:
They problem solve.
The folks that are actually getting paid to create all of those opportunities for students apparently are not doing so. I can just hear the conversation now “Well, Charles, I sponsored them, that is enough. Please pass the Grey Poupon. By the way, Walmart is coming.”
The College also has a Department of Marketing, who, from what I could see, could have used some help in marketing from the Engineering College which had music, food, displays of work being done, interactive displays and TECHNOLOGY all for potential students to play with. Engineering was like Disneyland for the students. The College of Business Administration was well, Disneyland’s accounting department. A sad tray of cookies was left untouched, covered by plastic wrap, like the couch in your grandmother’s living room.
How common is this type of thing? I do not know. I certainly cannot draw any type of conclusion based on a visit to a single college in a single university on a single day. But if it IS common, then I think we as K12 Instructional technology advocates need to start rethinking where we should be directing some of our time and effort.
What is the purpose of showing kids interactive whiteboards, collaborative learning, mobile devices, Web 2.0 tools for learning, in K-12 if, when they get to higher ed, all of that is pushed aside for a grey haired guy that is teaching the same way he was teaching when he started 50 years ago, and doesn’t use any kind of pedagogical skills other than to lecture?
If we are so hell bent on getting student “college ready” then maybe we need to have a serious discussion with higher ed about brain based learning, about the proper use of technology, about technology integration into all classes, about lesson differentiation and about meeting the student’s needs, not the teacher’s needs.
Maybe we need to start with Higher Ed.