Why Do You Teach?

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
Albert Einstein

I have been interested in the improvement of education throughout my life. During my late Graduate student and early professional years, I attended many workshops on Discipline-Based Educational Research (DBER). In these early days, the workshops and associated discussions were not well organized and would often range far and wide. The birth of organizations like the Khan Academy, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and other internet-based educational tools around the same time lead to a plethora of articles announcing that the Face-to-Face university was on its last leg and would soon die.

One of our discussions revolved around why the loss of face-to-face classes would be a tragedy. All the professors started by saying face-to-face classes were always superior to online (something I am not sure I agree with, but that is a different discussion) because of all the advantages the students got. Then for the next hour, the faculty discussed how they always get great ideas from their students, how the students think of things the professors did not, and how they taught so much better when interacting with the students. I remember asking “everything you just talked about are benefits to you what about the students? Shouldn’t we be talking about what they get?” I never got an answer.

Just recently I read an article The Subtle Erosion of Academic Freedom from Inside Higher Ed. The paper starts by saying that President Trump’s executive order about free speech while problematic is also distracting from the real loss of academic freedom. The author Professor Johann N. Neem argues that three things are undermining academic freedom. The first is the decline of tenure and shared governance; the next two surprised me. The second point undermining academic freedom is schools that offer degrees but don’t require “professors” to teach the courses specifically schools like Western Governors University or Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America. The third issue undermining academic freedom is the growing number of students that earn college credit through things like Advanced Placement.

Why does Professor Neem feel AP credit is undermining Academic freedom? Neem states “Yet a moment’s thought makes it clear that AP courses are nothing like college classes. They may be rigorous, but that does not make a course worthy of college credit. A college course is defined by the presence of a professor who is an expert in their subject and the freedom of that professor to pursue truth in the classroom and scholarship. … however, what defines a college course is freedom to seek truth far more than how hard a class is”

This argument that the essential thing in a college course is that the Professors can seek the “truth” drives the remainder of the paper. According to Webster’s dictionary, Truth means

  1. (a)
      i. : the body of real things, events, and facts: ACTUALITY
      ii. : the state of being the case: FACT
      iii. : often capitalized: a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality

    (b): a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true
    (c): the body of true statements and propositions

So how does truth affect AP courses “ … AP courses, even if more rigorous, are less like college courses than even traditional high school courses because AP teachers must teach to a predesigned test …” lets think about this idea a little if a course can’t be “college worthy” because the teachers don’t have the ability to seek real things, events, and facts what about American Chemical Society (ACS) certified programs. Since ACS certified programs have curricular requirements, does that mean an ACS certified Bachelors degree is not a college education?

One of the arguments as to why schools like Western Governors is not worth a “college” degree as Neem states is “Students themselves do not interact directly with professors but with standardized online modules and learning “coaches” and “mentors” hired to implement a pre-existing curriculum.” While I do not personally know every coach and mentor at Western Governors University the ones, I do know care a lot about education. Many “professors” don’t really care about education. I have lost count of the number of professors at high-end universities that have told me “I do as little teaching as possible,” “teaching is the lest import thing I do,” and “I put as little effort into teaching as I can.” Additionally, graduate students taught 25% -33% of my classes which is not uncommon.

So if High School teachers teaching AP classes are not worthy of college credit because as Professor Neem said “ … high school teachers, who lack the expertise and autonomy to offer college-level instruction, teach such courses.” Then do we need to invalidate all the bachelor’s degrees where graduate students have taught courses?

Just like the discussion I had years ago everything in Professor Neem’s article is about what the professors get not what the students get. Everything presented is opinion with little or no fact backing it up. Where is the evidence that shows students that graduate from schools like Western Governors or students that have AP credit do not do as well or have a “weaker” education than other students? I suspect there is no evidence presented because there is none. After all, when it comes to online education it has already been shown there is No Significant Difference.

If you want to argue that Universities and academic freedom are central to the quality of a students education, explain why with examples and evidence. After all, everything changes over time, just because something is new does not mean its wrong. If seeking the truth is the most important thing in education then instead of just complaining about differences put some real thought into the issue and conduct research to prove it (if you can).

Thanks for Listing to My Mussing
The Teaching Cyborg

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