Information Scarcity – Faculty

Institutions embrace an information scarcity model because as long as information is scarce, it is worth something. That doesn’t explain why faculty members, who teach, continue to support an information scarcity model. I believe it is because of several factors: the reinforcement system, inertia, ease, and lack of interest.

Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a big factor. The university and college system have as their primary focusses things other than learning. In universities, the focus is research. As such, the reinforcement system in place is for research. Few, if any, faculty members receive monetary rewards (raises), real recognition, significant promotions, and peer approval for their prowess in teaching. If a person receives tangible rewards for research related activities (publications, grant capture, PhD students etc., space (labs) and assistants), those are the activities that will receive their time. I have worked in a research intensive institution and know faculty members who teach students a few hours a year so that teaching activities do not interfere with their research.

When there is explicit teaching relief (you get to teach fewer classes) for excellence in research, the institutional and peer expectations direct your activities. Although excellence in teaching is recognized (somewhat), the real driver for promotion is research activities. With promotions come monetary rewards. Although money isn’t a factor for academics (at least that is what they say) I know too many academics (pretty well all) who respond favorably to financial incentives to actually believe them. Money talks in the academy.

Inertia

Lecturing is what academics do when they are teaching. Everyone knows this and we know that conformity is a basic driving force for behavior. Two-thirds of the people who were shown three lines that had obviously different lengths went along with the rest of the group when asked to identify the longest line when it was blatantly wrong. Academics are people, and if everyone is doing it (especially their peers), and if this is what everyone has always done, there is little impetus to alter long-standing habits. And so we see that lecturing still accounts for over 90% of all teaching events despite “

Academics are not trained to teach, and there are few people who go through the grueling training that it takes to obtain a PhD who want to teach. They are trained as researchers, and that is what they want to do. And so we see that lecturing still accounts for over 90% of all teaching events despite “no alternative has ever been discovered that is less effective (for learning) than lecturing.

Ease

This is one of the main drivers for keeping the information scarcity model of learning in place. Dealing with students takes time. This is especially true when using non-standard teaching methods that actually foster learning. It takes about three years to get a series of lectures to the point where a lecturer is satisfied. The first year is real work. The second year, most of the material is revised to get it better. The third year, some tweaks are made to get it just right and from then on you just deliver the same-old, same-old. When you can do this with hundreds of students at a time and test their understanding (or is it memorization) with a multiple choice test, you can satisfy the teaching requirements of your job in a few hours a week. Why change a method that works for everyone except those who actually want to learn. Administrators are happy, students are happy, and a faculty member can then focus on what is really important.

Lack of Interest

This is the real reason why the information scarcity model reigns supreme. Faculty members are not interested in how students learn. The few who are interested in their students, focus on how they teach. Teaching is the only thing that matters. I have found very few teachers (or other faculty members) who want to know anything at all about how people learn. When I have been approached, as an expert in the field, practitioners don’t want to know anything about how people learn. All they want to know is some teaching tip that will make their students happier. When institutions talk at all about students today, it has nothing to do with learning. The institutional focus on students is called

When institutions talk at all about students today, it has nothing to do with learning. The institutional focus on students is called “the student experience” which can be interpreted as “keep the students happy”. How can anyone be interested in how people learn when they find themselves in complete isolation when they do.

There are thousands of research articles published about how people learn. These articles are published in journals with very narrow mandates on psychology (the study of human behavior). There are very few researchers who examine this literature with a view to applying it to formal learning situations. Education is not interested because their focus is on teaching, not learning.

Is it any wonder there is no interest. What is in it for the instructor who wants to know?


How could we take something as natural and wonderful as learning and turn it into education?

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