Thursday, March 22, 2007

Neat new stuff

And a plug. I refer readers to Maclean's Education. A helluva site with tons of good articles. There's a very useful piece on how to get a reference letter for grad school, a skill that students far too often find themselves without. And even discussions on Facebook. Apparently Spencer Keys (a friend of the show) is involved in some way that, as of yet, is unascertainable on the site.

But two articles stand out, and they're quite related. The first is a piece on the plight of the sessional lecturer. In short, they're paid nearly minimum wage (25-30k, if they get a full load) to teach. This leaves them no time to do research, which denies them tenure-track positions. It's a vicious cycle. And the second is a more philosophical piece about why we're all at Universities in the first place.

The latter piece attempts to contextualize the contemporary University experience. The picture it paints is one of a University for mass consumption, driven less by the "corporate" nature of Universities and more by the desire to get as many people in and out the doors as possible. In short, Universities fail to create meaningful learning experiences. We don't learn from classrooms - we learn from associations with professorial research, from engaging more in-depth with the field, and from extra-curricular activities associated with the University. And this is related to the sessional lecturer - often, the sessional has to hold down a second job, and can't devote themselves to engaging with students in a meaningful way. The emphasis becomes on cramming the brains of those in the lecture halls - hardly conducive to learning.

We've also created a culture where students expect to go into a University and to acquire the knowledge, like a car going in for a new paint job. Potter's piece makes the point that the onus is as much on the student to seek to better themselves as much as it's on the University. His metaphor is that of an elite athlete who relies on a coach to bring out the best, but at the end of the day, it's up to athlete to better herself.

What are the implications for UBC? It's where things like NSSE come in. We're a University failing miserably at engaging our students, at creating the environment where opportunities exist. Sure, they're fighting a generational battle. But emphasis of research in tenure appointments, lack of informal learning space, the measurable impact of research dollars, the unavailability of research or other engaging opporunities for many students (Seriously, anybody know any undergrad Arts students who've ever worked with a prof? I've been here six years and have yet to meet one.), and the general sense of "people in, degree out" that comes with a University of this size are all conspiring to create a University experience that's quite frankly underwhelming.

Admittedly this is partly a generational problem. We're a narcissistic generation that demands hand-holding. But UBC and Universities ought to challenge us, rather than granting a degree as a reward for attendace in classrooms 15 hours a week. Your degree equity is suffering. Hell, the bachelor's is on the cusp of irrelevance already.

Not sure where I was going with all that. But read the articles. They're good.