[Plant-education] The state of higher education

Janice M. Glime jmglime at mtu.edu
Sun Aug 14 10:48:11 EST 2005

Dear Jim and Plant-edders,

  I am afraid that the publisher has hit on some sad truths.  When I first
began teaching here 32 years ago, the students were glad to be challenged
to think and to rely less on memorizing.  Even at the small teacher's
college where I taught before and the average student was much less
qualified, the students appreciated that challenge.  Now, students resist
thinking like the plague.  They complain because I ask questions in class
that are designed to lead them into discovering the answer.  It is as if
they don't know how to think and have no confidence in their ability and
we have no right to expect it of them.

  My own take on this is that children no longer engage in creative play.
They train their minds to stimulus-response video games during the hours
we once played hide & seek or dolls or cowboys & Indians.  It was about
the time that group of students began to cycle through college that I saw
a decline in the willingness of students to think.

  That doesn't answer your lab manual question.  I haven't looked at your
most recent edition, but perhaps the experiments need to be put into a
practical context to get more interest from the students (which will help
generate interest from faculty).  For example, I changed our lab from an
objective of determining protein and vitamin C content to one of solving a
mystery by examining stomach contents.  The students still did the same
tests, but there was more of an element of gaming, and they had to do a
bit more thinking.

  Another factor that most likely is playing into these choices by faculty
is the decreasing budgets that have deprived them of lab support personnel
and supply budgets.  The labs have to be simple to set up and foolproof
with inexpensive materials.  We have solved some of this problem by hiring
one of our best seniors to prep the freshman course (it is possible with
only 4 sections, requiring 10-12 hours a week of prep/cleanup).  We also
have an undergraduate TA (unpaid volunteer) at each lab table in addition
to the GTA.  The UTA (undergraduate) position is considered an honor and
students are excited to be invited to the position.

  In the face of all this, it appears that there is a move toward having
high schools do more investigative work.  Students in such programs should
already have reached our colleges, but this does not seem to have made our
students any more willing to do it.


 Janice M. Glime, Professor
 Department of Biological Sciences
 Michigan Technological University
 Houghton, MI 49931-1295
 jmglime at mtu.edu
 FAX 906-487-3167

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