Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Medieval Madness: When Will We Change?

I just read a great post by Professor Eckelmann at Community College Teaching -- a Love Story, that shares this quote by Jerry Della Femina:
The 22-year old is like an old man next to the 18-year old, who is really far out ... It's the kids who are really revolutionizing the advertising business today. The kids are pushing ahead, mainly because the communicate to consumers like we've never communicated before." (Della Femina, 2010, p.108)
As Eckelmann notes, it doesn't sound like such a striking quote -- until we realize he wrote it in 1969.

I too stumbled upon an article recently that I almost snubbed and didn't read because I saw the date and thought it would be irrelevant to my needs. The article was written by Lloyd Pulliam in 1963 and it's titled, "The Lecture -- Are We Reviving Discredited Teaching Methods?" (The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 44, No. 8. May, 1963, pp. 382-385)  His perspective is especially stunning, as I read it today, in 2010, as we watch the pieces of our world be transformed from the inside out by the internet.

His thesis?  That lecture is a method of learning that made sense at one time, and that time was the Middle Ages.  It made sense then because there was a scarcity of written books to share with "learners" so the "expert" scholar, or professor, would share information verbally and the students would digest it.  As books became more available after the invention of the printing press, the germanic tradition of the lecture in universities had taken hold and continue to spread throughout Europe and the early blossoming of higher education in America.

Funny, isn't it?  Pulliam identified the lecture as a "discredited teaching method" in the 1960s.  Consider the head spinning rate of information production today -- my own blog and tweets serving as perfect examples -- and the fact that this perpetuating flow of content is now available through laptops and smartphones in the pocket of a growing percentage of the world.  Yet we're still educating our college students through a medieval teaching method that "makes sense" in an information-scarce society.

When will we all see that it's time to change the way we teach our students and put them in the seat of a learning process that is founded in inquiry, rather than rote memorization and regurgitation of facts?  The ability of our country to "play" at a global level in the future depends on this moment.  Are you in?
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