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Master Student in Innovation,

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The gap between knowledge and practice. - A students thoughts on how universities don't implement what they know.

Why is it that the place where most knowledge on structure, organizations and learning is allocated, is also the place where the least of this knowledge gets put to use?

As an university student I (sadly) often ask my self why I'm at a specific lecture. Too often I get the feeling that I might as well have stayed home in stead of having attended today, since reading the curriculum apparently is more beneficial then joining the lecture. Too often the lecturers just repeat what I've already read and, might I ad, in a way that requires a lot of motivation and self discipline just to stay awake.

Why isn't the lecture on communication the best communicated one? Or the lecture on pedagogy the one which involves the most?

Though we do have lectures that really get me going and lecturers who really get me on the edge of my seat, my point is this:

Shouldn't universities be the place where private companies enviously look, amazed at how effective they are at communicating complexities? How well structured they are? How smooth everything seams to flow?

I would say yes, but that's not the experience I get when attending.

Recently when only given one 15 minute break during a three hour lecture, I asked the professor if we couldn't get at least one more, since it gets hard to concentrate for that period of time. He replied by saying, that we should actually take a short break every 20 minutes, because of that very argument. So why doesn't he give us that? Is it a matter of habit? Lack of reflection? Or maybe something else?

I don't know. But I sure would like to, since I suspect that being armed with that knowledge might be the first step in bringing change to this situation.

What are your thoughts?

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  • Nov 9 2011: First in yesterday's world the majority of knowledge actually came from industry. It took schools around Silicon valley more than just several years to start asking for people from the industry to teach new classes as an example. Today with technology a major subject and research being done on campus in many areas plus the Internet that has changed.....BUT.....changing people, particularly academia is a much more difficult task. AS a pointed criticism why is the master apprentice teaching method (the most effective possible) non existent when technology allows it....ie.....watch the lecture but have the professor available as the mentor (and why not have the best presenter or professor give the lecture....once recorded it). To further embarrass the academic elitists go to the Internet and do a simple query. How do students learn? Two hours later you will discover (with the exception of going to sites on primates) very little is known. II this an assumption that what exists is best(?) or an entire industry that is very slow to improve and only very recently has even started to use the Internet for Education....despite it's being around for 20 years. Nor does it question it's methods (In industry no improvement = failure). Sadly white papers of any substance are missing and that was with 9 hours prowling the net and college papers. To ultimately embarrass them ask the simplest of all questions.....what is the purpose of school? If you get back anything other than "to learn to think" they are from possibly not "sapiens". Basics plus the Internet (the world's library contain everything you need fortunately does exist (less the mentor). Bottom line....academia in general is not progressive....tenure and security are goals...improvement eliminates jobs. States, the DOE and alumni can change this if you revolt if only for cost reasons alone. Education is an industry that has not had much competition and that is changing. Share the thoughts.. change it.
    • Nov 11 2011: I agree. :)

      I'm trying to figure out an approach to be used in this case. Going directly to our Dean or professors, complaining about our lectures and trying to force them into doing things differently, do to this unsatisfaction, doesn't quite seam as a way that might bring change.

      In my perspective the trick is to motivate them. But how? It's also a political issue (universities are public in Denmark), so if we can prove that changing the method produces better results, we might be able to make it a political topic.

      Do you know how change came to Silicon Valley in this regard?
      • Nov 12 2011: The request from the local colleges and universities I am sure came about as a function of students interested in taking related courses since the technology and growth of the companies was more than significant plus those in power within the schools recognizing both the need and the financial benefit, increased revenue.

        The above, obviously, is an example of where there is a reward.....growth, revenue in addition to meeting a need. Changing methods is a separate subject, If I was back in school (am a lot older now) I would pursue it on the basis of cost and quality. The first step being to put together a two page statement of fact....(will let you figure that out since I have given you the basics but if you like I can send you some of the stuff I have written but not published). The cost issue is two fold....what you pay and the expense of running a classical college or university. More on this below. So, to get mankind to understand you need to campaign....it could start with something in the school paper, be expanded to include letters to regents, politicians, and parents. It could also become a "movement' if the approach was shared with other schools. Okay what's the cost equation. First the "lecture" no longer exists as an auditorium event. It's an over the net pre-recorded lecture by the best presenter in that subject area. In other words one recorded lecture might last ten years if well done and the subject did not change. Support, again over the net "live" is the teacher but it's much more a mentor role than the typical give the lecture and walk out. 'with this approach auditoriums are used less (cost savings), teachers actually have more time (no lesson plans and prep given they are familiar with the material). Equally important is you may be able to take the class at your convenience with an on-line mentoring discussion session 24 hours later. This is just one example of the tip of an iceberg worth of savings...off site attendance? etc. .
  • Nov 19 2011: Hi Casper,
    As a fellow college student I find myself in roughly the same situation as you. Even though in university we have supposedly chosen our domain of specialization to study the subjects we're interested in, some of the ones I'm having this semester and not only are vaguely correlated to my area of interest, which makes for lower attendance in lectures and lack of motivation in seminaries.
    From what I understood, your post refers to the professors' lack of practising what they know, to facilitate the learning process and intrigue us into their subject. I too have been experiencing this type of teaching (for example,my teacher who lectures on Pedagogy - the science of Teaching - is not at all engaging and seems to not care a lot about teaching us this practice), and from my point of view, the reasons may vary: from having multiple generations of uninterested students -which can lower your passion for teaching-, to having a too small salary that is not worth the struggle of enticing students into being interested and so on. From what I've seen, the first argument is more applicable to my university, due to the majority (~80%) of students who show such little interest in the subject, regardless their relevance to their future careers, which determines professors to have low expectations and, consequently, low commitment. You seem to be part of the other group, who would like to be drawn to the subjects he's studying but the teachers are not interested enough.
    What I would do in your situation is try to be more active in seminaries (if you have such things), where things are more personal in groups of 20 than scores of 80-100, and answer, ask questions, show interest, research something to challenge your teacher and maybe he'll find a new way to connect and better put into practice what he knows.
  • Nov 12 2011: Casper.....some additional points given your education is free. By reducing cost in this area it frees up time (or money) or other resources to overall improve the curriculum. And actually there might be a net savings to the tax payers while giving student more bang for the buck I(lectures of the quality on TED), more $'s in lab classes, more money for practical stuff....research as you learn instead of facts and practical application of knowledge (plus new knowledge and approaches) Another piece of this puzzle (and I don't know how your educational system is organized) is classes and grading. I am not a fan of grades but rather a simple pass fail meaning the subject material has been mastered. I also believe, emphatically, that a student should be allowed to progress at the rate they can and want.....meaning there are no levels....you simply continue. There is another reason for this as well. As we enter the next decades every increasing specialization (outside the service industries and particularly in the technology arena but also other areas) will be areas of significant employment and very probably the best paying jobs. Given that I would vote for a less broad education at the university level. While I can appreciate taking history it actually does little for an engineering major...just as math, differential equations as an example, does little for the history major. Two other points to think about is free education today does not necessarily mean it will always be free and why shouldn't a student in a lower level school not be allowed to take university level courses. If it's "on the net" this opens up the world for youth that are not yet old enough to attend school. Why would I like to see you and Denmark succeed? Because selling this in the USA I(my country) is significantly more difficult. Given there is an example in the world that has made the transition it makes it easier here. If I can be of help please let me know. Tangoblue@aim.com
    • Nov 16 2011: There's actually a large debate tomorrow in one of our larger cities, in regards to how to think entrepreneurship into our educational system, and I'ill be attending. The hole problem, as I see it, is exactly that they are trying to define what it is. They stay in this traditional industrial thinking, where students are placed on an assembly line, given specific input and then they expect new bright ideas to emerge. In order to get these entrepreneurs going, they need to stop thinking about what it is, let the resources be available and let the students figure out how to use these tools and create new tools.

      And I really agree with your History example. I'm tired of being forced to study subjects that I've got zero interest in. Why not let students study the things they're passionate about? This will probably also change the culture and get the students to set higher expectations for their lectures.

      Interestingly the major buzzword is "innovation". But, as you might know, it comes from latin (innovatio) and means renew. Do we really want to renew as in reform? Renew the model we already have, that doesn't work? I'd say no. We need to reinvent it. "Bring on the learning revolution", as Ken Robinson might say.

      So I'm hoping to get this perspective threw tomorrow. Also hope they start defining innovation and talk about objectivity, as politicians tend to do. Would love to tell them that it isn't possible in this context.

      But we'ill see what happens. I'ill keep you in mind in regards to sending you a mail for additional input. Thanks for that possibility by the way.
      • Nov 17 2011: Casper....In our relatively short dialogue I strongly suspect you may know more than you realize. Here's a suggestion....one sign that has on it:

        Use the Internet for Education - reduce costs and taxes.
        Let students progress as rapidly as they individually can or desire - eliminate grades.
        Allow teachers to get back to a true master / apprentice relationship, the most effective ever known..
        Make Denmark the show piece for educational reform.
        We don't need fancy schools or academics that administer education to the average student. We want education for all students regardless of their ability to learn.
        Get involved....Sign up with me.

        I am obviously not aware of what this meeting is in total but.....you have some advantages, one being a student, two, very probably short dialogues with other concerned students could create a group (and groups can be heard). I am not preaching insurrections but inviting the media (let them have a copy of a one page handout in advance) and you might make front page news. That starts the ball rolling. Again if I can be of help let me know. Have spent a lot ot time thinking about how to do this within the USA (my country) and, unfortunately it is a far larger problem to tackle. With Denmark's size (and the lack of the "democratic" system" in the United States you may achieve something remarkable. If you do it will spread. One more point is that many schools in the USA now let students take classes over the Internet at the high school level (grades 9-12 or years 13/14 -17 /18. This is a step in the right direction but it exists without the master apprentice relationship....(it's not interactive between teacher and classmates). Universities are also putting their libraries on the net. Politically here there is always talk of education reform but even one of the better known (Michelle Rhee) "supposed" champions of education....upon an in-depth examination reveals she has nothing of substance to add. Good luck..
  • Nov 8 2011: I was talking about something else. Thanks for clarifying. I can see how it is possible to know the material on communication, have the right credentials or research potential, but still be a poor communicator. However, if you were a good communicator and had the rest of the training, you might rather be out seeking your fortune rather than teaching.

    Good to hear you are immersed in the transition from school to the working world, and motivated enough to start your own business. You will learn a lot from that experience.

    As for the problems with your classes, it seems like someone in your administrative chain is not doing their job. If you paid for a class, you deserve to get a good product. Perhaps these conditions have not been effectively communicated to the right people. I think I would start there and see if I could fix the problem. Good Luck!
    • Nov 9 2011: I'm from Denmark and quite opposite many other countries, education is free. We actually get paid to go to school. But our taxes fund it, so you could say that we pay for it our selves anyway, just not directly.

      It's a problem seen many places in different educational systems, and therefore not just narrowed around the university I attend.

      But change has to start somewhere, so we'ill see what happens.

      Thanks for your input.
  • Nov 8 2011: There is a learning process outside the school that requires immersion to fully master, specifically competitive workplace. If you have the opportunity to do cooperative work, internships, of summer work in the area you choose to make you life's work, then what you learn in school will make more sense sooner.

    Reading a book, hearing a lecture, mastering a skill all while building a general understanding and knowledge base of a subject, arms you with the tools you need for success, but does not prepare you to jump out in the working world with a seamless transition. Most professions require some sort of mentored internship until you are proficient enough to be trusted and capable of making your employer money. It is a risk they are willing to take, but realize it is a risk. Training a new employee is expensive. They will not train you on those things you should have learned from school, but rather how the employer has found to be the best way to use this skill set towards a profit or similar professional goal.

    Universities care mostly about training the "average" average student well enough to be proficient enough in his classes to have success as a working adult. If the lectures bore you, or are beneath you, then you should look further into the subject until your intellectual curiosity is satisfied and perhaps use the opportunity to talk with or question your professor to refine understanding on points that are unclear. School is a place where the purpose is to help you. You will probably not find many in the working world that will help you with questions or lectures leading towards understanding. Instead you will find people trying to take advantage of you, sue you for mistakes, belittle you for not knowing material, and basically win competitions with you until you are their equal.

    Are professors perfect? No. Are they equal? no. They are human. But their goal is to help you help yourself. when you leave school, knowing what to learn becomes your problem.
    • Nov 8 2011: Though I agree with you reply here, it doesn't seam as if we're talking about the same thing.

      I'm confident that my professors and lecturers want to help me and my peers. I'm aware that my studies alone doesn't get me a good job, therefore the importance of having a relevant job while studying becomes given knowledge. I work in an organization the promotes and encourages entrepreneurship, do voluntary work and I'm in the process of starting my own company with a few friends. So the theories I obtain from lectures gets put to practice.

      My point is that the expertise my lecturers have on e.g. communication (I'm studying communication and business studies) doesn't get put to use in the specific lecture. They know in theory how to get peoples attention, how to make a oneliner that people remember, but they don't implement it in their lectures. They all, more or less, do the same thing, which is go threw there slides.

      We're surrounded by experts in organization, structure and coordination, yet we sit overcrowded in one auditorium because someone thought we would be 40 students, when we're actually 80. We need specific books for specific lectures, yet the university bookstore never seams to order the right number of books, even though information on how many is needed is available. It's like having a swimming instructor who knows exactly how to get that perfect stroke, but can't swim him self, hence the title "The gab between knowledge and practice".

      If they were to use and implement the knowledge they have, I think the commitment from students will grow. We'ill learn more and maybe the lecturers might be more satisfied with their jobs.

      My goal with this is to increase the quality of our studies. I'd like to see our lectures incorporate and show the knowledge they have. No one is expecting them to be perfect. Not even close. But if they would only give it a go and impress us with the expertise I know they have. We might be able to get even better.
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    Nov 7 2011: Your conversation here just reminded me of one of Ken Robinson's lines in his 'Schools Kill Creativity' talk.
    “Professors look upon their bodies as a sort of a ‘transport’ for their heads. It’s a way to get their head to meetings” Maybe that's the problem. :)

    This is meant lightheartedly.... ;)
    • Nov 7 2011: I'm a fan of Ken Robinson. The first TED-talk I saw was exactly the one you mention. :)
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    Nov 7 2011: If I didn't know better, I'd say you have the beginnings of a global movement here. An idea whose time has come. ;)
    • Nov 7 2011: I'd better catch up on some Seth Godin then. :)

      But yes. Maybe the time has come for this one. The question is then how to get it into the real world and bring change.