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Demand and Supply
September 1, 2009 - 9:31pm

One of the challenges of catalyzing a transformation of higher education towards an active learning model is that students are simply not demanding that this change occur. In class this term I showed Michael Wesch's A Vision of Students Today and a short commercial on the failing of higher education from Kaplan University. To my surprise my students were not all that moved.

Why do students seem content with a lecture based class system? Why don't they demand that their work get exposed to the wider world rather then be siloed in course management systems and their papers only be read by the professor? Why aren't students asking for creative course projects that use media and multiple intelligences, rather than the traditional end-of-term paper?

I had thought that the reason students were not demanding courses built on active learning principles was mostly because they did not know about these principles. That they were not aware that the instructor / lecture-centric system to design courses was one way of doing things, and that other models exist.

But my experience is that even when pushed to think ways that classes could be designed around active learning principles that the majority of our students may not be all that interested. Sure, some students will get very excited about new methods, and very much thrive in classes that leverage technology to enable student creation, debate, and collaboration. I'm not sure, however, if these same students wouldn't be as excited by a great lecturer, or a course that provided entertaining demonstrations and the liberal use of media.

Perhaps one of the goals for our discipline (and again I'm making some assumption that we are creating the discipline of learning technology) is to figure out how to get our students as excited about the possibilities of active learning as we are. Can we figure out how to inspire students to demand that technology be utilized to make big classes feel and act like small classes?

As learning technologists we tend to focus on the supply side of the equation. We try to create a bigger supply of faculty who are equipped with the fundamentals of course design, constructivism, and a basic toolbox of technical skills to design and teach their courses. We put resources, time and energy into the supply of educational technology platforms and tools, and then work to train and support these tools. But we don't spend much thought or energy on increasing the demand for the courses we wish to see created.

Perhaps focussing on demand is not really feasible. Students are focussed on getting through their courses, getting good grades, and leveraging their college degrees for their first job or graduate/professional school. They know how to operate in a lecture based system. Learning to work in the demands of an active learning course is difficult.

Besides, I wouldn't really know how to go about increasing demand. I guess we could bring in guest speakers, write op ed. pieces in our student newspapers, hire student interns and indoctrinate them in the precepts of constructivism, and encourage our innovative faculty to talk to their students about the process and structure of education. But I'm pessimistic if any of this would have any really impact on the aggregate student demand for student-centered / technology enabled courses.

What do you think?

 

 

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