Faking an Education

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John Pederson asks a provocative series of questions in a post titled Faking an Education.

I hope, but do not think, he intends his comments as satire. His comments are spun off from discussions about podcasts, online learning, and using public school staff to help fulfill credits for a professional education license.

In the spirit of comity, I want to respond seriously to his questions.

If a superintendent, principal, or teacher can “contract out” their own continuing education, what does that say about the system in place?

It says that higher education operates under a historic, implied honor code. Serious students attend programs in order to master the content in order to earn credit. Serious faculty and administrators expect observers of honor code violations to report violators.

Deep down inside, none of us believe that seat time is the answer.

At the most profound level, many of us believe that any student or teacher who sees attendance as sufficient for credit should seriously reconsider further participation in education for pay: find another job. Those who claim credit for seat time dishonor those who trust teachers and those who try their best to earn the right to teach.

Isn’t that what our current system of relicensure is about?

The system of relicensure is intended to demonstrate that educators know how to use the latest, most effective and efficient procedures to increase learning rates of students. After all, educators perform what some consider “mind surgery,” one of the most dangerous and hopeful performances in the life of a student.

Honestly. How many “hours” equal a credit in your situation? How many credits equal learning?

What you learn is up to you, no one else. It’s not up to a faculty member, a speaker, or an administrator. A thoughtful person can find something to learn in every situation and from any other person. No one knows everything. If you didn’t learn anything, you wasted your time and stole an unrecoverable asset of time from everyone elses.

Here’s one formula used traditionally at top tier schools for equating student-faculty lecture-discussion class contact time with student learning potential. I have seen this formula in practice at many education programs and in even more classes at all tier levels.

The formula assumes that the student has fulfilled prerequisites at or above the average level. Those who do not have that skill and information background must add time and effort to catch up, even if they can “survive” through assignments.

For every hour of L-D class per week, a student will prepare for a grade of “C” one hour as a lower division student; two hours as an upper division student; three hours as a master’s student; and four hours as a doctoral student. Those trying to earn a higher grade will prepare more. For example, a “C” student will read assignments. A “B” student will read the original articles cited in footnotes for the assignment. An “A” student will be able to compare and contrast the assigned reading and footnote reading, identifying strengths and weaknesses in each text.

A prepared undergraduate “C” student will read at least 2,000 pages of text, articles, documents, etc. An “A” student will read 5,000 or more pages.

Let’s look back through the system. Is it any different at the undergraduate/graduate level at the university? How about high school?

The appearance of “a system” is an illusion. At best, links between levels of schooling exist in form, but not necessarily more than form. Each school, each teacher, each class has unique aspects.

A major common denominator at all levels of schooling is the expectation that each teacher will figure out a way to facilitate each student to learn at his or her maximum level all the time. The extent to which teachers expect students in their classes to maximize performance will mimic the traditional formula for academic credit at tier 1 higher education. That’s why tax payers pay teachers. That’s why students pay tuition.

Yes, I know, all teachers, faculty members, speakers, and entertainers don’t result in maximum learning for students or an audience. Everyone has other commitments, distractions, inadequacies, and views about their place in the universe.

The traditional academic response to these “Yes, but…” is “So what?” You agreed to attend this class (continuing education session, etc.), so do your best. If I don’t grade you according to your performance against the traditional academic standard, you know you’ve been cheated. You should demand evaluation according to academic tradition, not contemporary convenience.

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Robert Heiny
Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D. is a retired professor, social scientist, and business partner with previous academic appointments as a public school classroom teacher, senior faculty, or senior research member, and administrator. Appointments included at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Peabody College and the Kennedy Center now of Vanderbilt University; and Brandeis University. Dr. Heiny also served as Director of the Montana Center on Disabilities. His peer reviewed contributions to education include publication in [I]The Encyclopedia of Education [/I](1971), and in professional journals and conferences. He served s an expert reviewer of proposals to USOE, and on a team that wrote plans for 12 state-wide and multistate special education and preschools programs. He currently writes user guides for educators and learners as well as columns for [I]TuxReports[/I].com.