“[Higher education] has been focused on individual work and social interaction, but the world is becoming a place of collaborative work and social isolation” (Bowen, 2012, pp. 228-229). Due to the Internet, the world is changing very rapidly. Many aspects of life have been transformed to function in an online environment, whether it is chatting with your family overseas, helping a charity, or working on a professional project. This increase in online communication and collaboration has lowered the need to meet with people face-to-face, resulting in social isolation. Social isolation should not be mistaken for loneliness, where an individual has no form of interaction with anyone. This drastic shift in how we communicate and collaborate with others socially and professionally has been progressing slowly in higher education.
Growing up as a millennial, the mismatch between how the world and higher education is changing frustrates me. As a student, I always felt out of sync with my instructor. In the many undergraduate computing science courses I took they always felt like a step back in time. The learning methods did not align with how I wanted to learn nor what was expected of me after graduation. As an instructor, I encourage collaboration and integrate online technology throughout the courses I teach. Students, especially first-year ones, embrace this method of learning and appreciate that their learning is catered towards their needs. However, my methodologies are not embraced, or heard of, by many faculty and this results in frustration for myself and other students. When I teach second-year courses, many students whom I did not meet in their first year of studies, exhibit hesitation towards my teaching style. These students are expecting the traditional methods of learning they experienced in their first-year courses from other instructors. These creates confusion for students as they are getting mixed messages from their instructors in regards to their learning.
Where is this frustration coming from? Census data from 2006 reveals that 32% of university professors in Canada are 55 years or older, compared to 15% for the rest of the workforce (Government of Canada, 2013). This is not to say that older professors cannot teach using modern teaching methods, but it is known that the older you are the harder it is to change. Interestingly, the push to modernize the teaching and learning process at my university is coming from administrators as opposed to faculty. Why is the push not coming from faculty? One would think that because I am at a teaching university, faculty would be driving this change. Perhaps because faculty are not required to conduct research in their field or in education, they are not aware of the changes outside of the university’s walls. Maybe textbook publishers are to blame for this lack of change. Instructional resources from publishers that I have obtained are very old-fashioned. Lesson plans provided typically consist of a 50 slide presentation, a group activity, and a multiple choice quiz. This is hardly supportive of how the modern world learns now.
Instead of playing the blame game, I could help my colleagues realize how higher education is falling behind. I could invite a guest speaker to a department meeting or organize a workshop for a group of colleagues. Dr. V. K. Maheshwari, who has been training teachers for 47 years, suggests that an effective workshop for instructors involves identifying the teaching profession problem, providing background information, identifying educational objectives, and developing an understanding regarding the problem (Maheshwari, 2011). The methodologies he describes for developing an effective workshop are similar to that of developing lesson plans for students. If I were to develop such a workshop, it would be a collaborative effort, involving faculty, administrators, and possibly even students. By having all faculty on board with teaching and learning methods that align with how the modern world functions, students will be able to learn more effectively in class. Students will also be better prepared when entering, or re-entering, the workforce.
Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Government of Canada. (2013, September 3). University Professors. Retrieved May 29, 2014, from Service Canada: http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/qc/job_futures/statistics/4121.shtml
Maheshwari, V. K. (2011, November 14). Organizing an Effective Workshop in Education. Retrieved May 29, 2014, from Dr. V.K. Maheshwari, Ph.D: http://www.vkmaheshwari.com/WP/?p=289