By and large today in 2006, formal educational institutions measure learning with seat time. Sure, there are credit by examination tests that high school students can take to earn credit for courses, but for the most part, to get credit, you have to sit in class for X number of hours to be considered a “learner.” This is true of teacher professional development, which exists in stark contrast to the conception of “outcomes based education.” The goal of many professional development workshops and session attendees seems to be to sit there and passively survive to the end, so the requisite seat-time credit can be earned. Some college professors (perhaps many) have a similar mentality about learning. I heard a story this week about a professor who vehemently declared, holding a piece of chalk in his hand, “This is all I need to teach students!” That may be all he thinks he needs to teach, but it is certainly not all that is required to engage students in authentic learning in the 21st century classroom.

A great opinion piece in today’s Texas Tech Daily Toreador by Sarai Brinker entitled, “Attendance policy shouldn’t be enforced in most classes” takes this common standard to task. Sarai questions the attendance policies of university classes that are basically synchronous non-interactive, a subject I have written about previously.

Her final few paragraphs are to the point and on the mark:

Professors should ask themselves not only why students don’t come to class, but the more important questions of why students wouldn’t want to come to class.

One possibility is that the students are lazy, in which case they should fail.

Other possibilities abound. Students may know they can learn the material and pass the exams without attending class. Another is that we are sick of bullet points on Power Point slides that will be later posted to a Web site, anyway. Maybe we know a professor will say nothing [sic] that isn’t already in the textbook. After all, we did learn to read more than a decade ago.

If these scenarios are in fact legitimate, and I believe they are, poor attendance is not so much the fault of the student as the professor’s, and students should therefore not be penalized for a professor’s poor teaching ability.

Instead, professors should strive to teach beyond the textbook to provide something unique to the classroom. Classes need to integrate challenging discourse, and provide an experience, which amounts to something more than bulleted lecture notes and multiple-choice tests.

If this were the norm rather than the exception, attendance policies would disappear for one simple reason: Professors wouldn’t need them.

We are living in a culture where the vast majority of people, teachers and professors included, are steeped in experiences with transmission-based education. The idea of education as conversation is a foreign concept to which they have difficulty relating.

This theme of education as conversation is one I will take up at length at my keynote presentation next Monday in Fort Worth at the ESC11 Leadership Symposium on “Improving Student Learning through Technology – Best Practices.”

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One Response to Measuring learning with seat time

  1. Rob Kennedy says:

    I wonder how many of our colleagues have read Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. Do they realize that the ‘old’ ways, the traditional ways of teaching aren’t up to the challenges of the day?

    I can hardly wait to download the podcast of your Fort Worth presentation. Much luck, Wesley!


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