Why am I Changing How I Teach?

Why am I Changing How I Teach?    8.8.16


When you look at American Higher Education (and education in general) you see a major shift in the last half of the 20th century, specifically in the ‘Cold War’ era.  At the start of this period (post-1945) education was dominated by the goal of teaching/learning traditional discipline content.  It’s worth realizing that for many disciplines they only became formalized in the 1910-1940 period, so that amount of material and number of concepts was pretty small and easy to get hold of, though the concepts were often very complex.  Reflecting changing in American social values, by the late 1950’s this was shifting with two related dominant concepts: 1) teaching (?) social education, so that people become better social animals and citizens; 2) the dominance of individualism, the concept that teaching/learning is not a ‘one size fits all’ model, with the concepts of ‘self-discovery’ and ‘what’s in it for me?’  These have become dominant pieces of the discussion of contemporary American social fabric in everything from gun control to texting.  More depressing is that this has in many cases been shifted into an entitlement model, where the group/society/university is required to give you ‘X’ because you exist— ‘I deserve an A because I came to class everyday’ being a nice example.

Direct impacts on Higher Education can be seen in the following current commonly-held views of the self, education and self-regulation:

  • Higher Education is a specific monetized career track—disciplines have projected future pay scales;
  • Higher Education must include improving students normative and socially ethical behavior;
  • It is inappropriate to reward for skill competency as it can demean those who don’t perform to certain levels, so students should be instead be rewarded for participating—remove or devalue success/failure as a measure;
  • A corollary of the above is that encouraging attempting rather than succeeding is central to the educational process;
  • Education should be entertaining, specifically the classroom learning experience, has become more pervasive [Learning should be Fun]
  • Education has become commodified:
    • Retail concepts of ease of access, low effort threshold
    • Retail concepts of quality control
    • Retail concepts of value of product, product packaging
    • Education in general, and specifically Learning, become consumables
    • Learning is seen as a passive process—‘it happens to you’
  • Life Experiences are central to growth of the individual, so Learning should not require huge amounts of time/effort so that it can fit into other life experiences that are equally valuable [such as time spent on social media]
  • Confusion at all levels distinguishing between on one hand information and technological tools, such as the Web/apps such as Google Search, Wikipedia/smartphones-tablets; and on the other hand knowledge and understanding
  • Multi-tasking held as a viable and necessary behavior, and thus a viable Education strategy, and thus should be incorporated into the process of Learning
  • Innate intelligence/aptitude is seen as more central an individual’s success in Higher Education than effort and self-discipline (self-regulation)


The assumptions above drive not only the student expectations, but also the general population, politicians, funding patterns and accreditation.  Of interest is the lack of any discussion of applying software development corporate models (such as Google, Microsoft, Niantic or Amazon) as a template for Higher Education.

My operant definitions for contemporary Higher Education:

Self-Regulation:  The set of learned skills that must be practiced to be retained.  They are central to the process of learning.  They include self-discipline, time management, prioritizing.

Commodity:  Something that has been given value.  It can be bought, sold, measured described…  To “commodify” something is to make it into a commodity (such as a tip for service)

Consumable:  Something that has a finite period of time (start-finish), is measurable in both time and end result.  You buy-eat a McDonald’s Happy Meal; you buy a ticket to Tokyo and land at Haneda Airport; you hire a nanny to take care of your kids.  Consumables can be scored on a number of value categories, an excellent example being Amazon’s ‘seller feedback’ with 1-5 stars.

Teach or Instruct:  To guide and assist others in gaining knowledge about a discipline or subject that the instructor is knowledgeable of.

Information: Data in a number of different forms.  Traditionally would be either oral (spoken) or written (books); now largely digital in format.

Knowledge:  The intellectual structures that categorize, organize and make sense of groups of information.  Frequently in Higher Education the goal is the ability to extrapolate the existing knowledge to make sense (interpret) new situations—to make sense of the new and unknown.  Clusters of related knowledge structures are called disciplines, the cornerstone of Higher Education.  The goal of Higher Education is the acquisition of Knowledge, to become knowledgeable in a particular discipline or subject.

Learning:  The process of converting information into knowledge.

Acceptance:  the passive process of reacting to directions of expectations.  Cram memorizing for an exam is acceptance.  After the exam, the information, which was never incorporated into knowledge, is discarded (forgotten).  Information without knowledge or understanding.

Understanding:  the active process of incorporating information into new knowledge and linking to past knowledge.

Higher Education: Post-secondary education systems, increasingly on multiple platforms (traditional sit-down classroom, virtual classroom, online autonomous course material).  The goal is to acquire knowledge in a specific set of intellectual disciplines.  Usually involves an institution which has been validated so that content is acceptable to the disciplines taught (an accredited institution).

Higher Education Instructors:  Specialists in a specific discipline (knowledge set), usually acquired over time in Higher Education institutions.  Traditionally their career is defined by continued growth in very detailed knowledge within their discipline.  Rarely have they been judged or measured by their skill to teach (help others to gain in knowledge).

Grades:  Indicators of information retention and knowledge that become central indicators of knowledge acquisition within a specific discipline or subject.  They are indirect indicators.  When Education becomes commodified, the grades become commodified in their own right.  Grades are frequently clustered together (the GPA) and become means by which one is judged as a success or failure in Higher Education, usually linked to a specific discipline/subject.

Note that much of the discussion above is directly tied to course content.  But they are central to the student being a learner vs a ‘grade consumer’.

Why do you care?

1) In the larger world no one cares what grades you get (though you do have to pass);

2) ‘Passing a course’, ‘getting a degree’ are only markers.  You will either continue learning until you fall over or you will get marginalized as a changing world passes you by…

3) 10 years from now 50% of what you will need to know doesn’t exist in your field yet—so you will have to learn it;

4) If you are a passive student in 10 years your job will be an app on an AI (artificial intelligence), and you will be redundant.

The Future is grounded in the Present and the Past.  If you don’t learn the knowledge in your disciplines now, you will become a passive object in the future.


Your Assignment if You Should Choose to Undertake It [with full deniability on our part if you fail]:

I want you to think about the concept of ‘cost-benefit analysis’ which was popular during my major period as a consultant in the 1980-90’s.  [I have no idea what it’s called now, but I assume it must still be around.]  It’s an incredibly useful concept to apply to your activities, introspection and issues of self-regulation.  Cost-benefit is exactly what it looks like:

What is the cost of something?

This can be time; money; social reputation…

What is the benefit of that same something?

This can be immediate reward; emotional reward; future reward…

How do they balance out?

Is the cost worth the eventual benefit?

Is it immediate gratification without any other benefit?

Is there no immediate gratification but substantial long-term benefit?

Given long-term goals, is this a good investment or path to follow, or do I need to change this pattern?

The ASSIGNMENT: List the 5 activities that consume the most time during your day.  NOTE that if you are sitting in class but actually texting or playing Pokemon Go then that counts towards those activities, NOT as ‘being in class’ time.

  • Order them from most time—least time (1-5).
  • For each specify the cost in time. If you can, include some thought of the emotional-mental engagement while in the activity.  If you always get upset while texting but do it all the time, include that.
  • For each specify the benefits. Include not only immediate, but also longer-term benefits.  If it’s immediate gratification ‘I keep up with my friend’s lives’, note this.
  • Now look at each with a critical eye:
  • What are the short-term (up to 2 weeks) benefits of spending time on ‘X’?
  • What are the long-term (1 year+) benefits of spending time on ‘X’?
  • What are your long-term (5 year) ambitions?
  • What are your long-term (5 year) goals?
  • Evaluate your 1-5 activities and analyze them related to your ambitions and goals. What is the fit?  What behavior do you have to change (or control) to achieve your ambitions-goals given how you spend your time NOW?

When you’re done, archive a digital copy of your assignment.  Send a copy to me and keep the other.  Try re-doing the assignment in 6 months and see how you have changed.