The Elephant in Higher Education’s Classrooms – Faculty and Change

Photo Courtesy of Playlands.Org

We’ve done a good bit of research into learner outcomes. We’ve measured success rates of students who complete online courses, and how much better (or worse) they do in online classes. We also have a good deal of research about other initatives such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device,) iPad and tablet introductions, and web tools when integrated into curriculum. It is all done from a learner perspective, and that’s right. It’s about the learner. One of our overarching paradigm shifts has been the lens through which we view education – from an instructor-centric to a learner-centric environment. It’s the way it should be.

But wait. I know there is not much empathic response for the seasoned faculty who’ve had the wind knocked out of them. They should have changed with the times! They should have kept up with innovation! If they won’t change, it’s their problem. It’s 2013. Even though many are subject matter experts in their fields, they should have been paying attention!

Here’s the issue. Many of them don’t want to.

Nobody told them what was going on. The status quo was validated by colleagues, who also continued to do things the same way. Perhaps you need to spend time in a University to really understand. They have been researching a topic, often one which needs to be studied. Maybe it’s about energy, or science, or learning. They are working with students and advising. They are deeply embedded in their own research, helping learners with dissertations or inquiry, or planning coursework. They are publishing, or sitting on curriculum committees. Nobody told them there was this thing, this “disruption”going on. Maybe they’ve been at their institution for 30 years. This came out of nowhere. MOOCs? Online? Flipping classrooms? Devices in the classroom?

Here’s the thing about adult learners. And faculty, higher ed instructors, are in fact adult learners. Someone moved the earth beneath them when they were told to do things in new ways after so many years. It’s not their fault. The corporate world, in most cases, has moved in lockstep with innovation. Not higher ed. Blame, if we must, goes to “the academy” and “the higher education system.” Is it an excuse? Maybe, maybe not. We could argue that the things they do don’t fit with new paradigms of education. Some say “get with it or they shouldn’t be teaching.” “Get faculty or adjuncts who will do what needs to be done.” Is that the answer? Or do many of these minds have many years of contribution - knowledge that comes with experience both about the nature of learners (new word, don’t use students) and the subject matter they are sharing and continually researching.

Maybe we need to pay attention, even though our focus is on learner-centric education, to the experienced minds that shouldn’t be disgarded because they are resistant to new methods and modalities.

Adults learn what they learn because they need to, and it needs to be relevant and tied to previous experience. They are most successful with change and new environments when it relates to something they’ve done in the past – something that is somehow tied to their new learning. This is easy to understand if I think about trying to help my own kids with their calculus homework.

There are ways it can work. Faculty, even the very reluctant, can work in new ways both technologically and peda(andra)gogically. I will have to address in another article soon.