May 08, 2006

Culture gap between university students and teachers

Daniel asks
could you give us a little more about what the nature of that culture gap is? do you think that it applies to your japanese students or is it something that applies primarily or only to US students?


I called it a culture gap; that is not what author Bob Leamson calls it. Simply put, Leamson suggests that professors and instructors at college level have spent enough time with their discipline and field(s) of knowledge that they are much more familiar with them and with their related ways of thinking, than their students are. Well, duh, I hear you say (only you're too polite to say it aloud). Wait, there's more: not only are they more familiar with the concepts and the ways of thinking required in their field, but they have forgotten the processes by which they got there. They can all too often fall into the trap of expecting students to "catch on" quickly, without realizing or forgetting the major differences between "high school thinking" and "college thinking". College teachers are much more concerned with developing students' thinking abilities. Indeed, this is such a given it barely would seem to require mentioning. But Leamson asks, do students know this? Why should we expect them to? He does a good job of identifying freshmen students' values and ways of thinking without being either condescending or coddling, without either blaming or excusing, but with sympathy and understanding. He points out that, given their high school experience, it is unrealistic to expect students to suddenly be interested in developing their thinking skills, or to be able to distinguish between procedural and declarative knowledge, or even if they knew the difference, to realize that their teachers are expecting them to USE the knowledge that is being offered; to use it to change their behaviour. It is probably safer to assume, Leamson suggests, that students assume that whatever a teacher says is "teacher talk": not to be paid attention to unless it's "going to be on the test". And then THAT is the only reason to pay attention to it.

He gives an example of a student of his, who, nearly at the end of the semester was clearly at risk of failing, and came in for extra coaching. During one session, a light went off in his head: "you mean all that stuff you were making us read, we were supposed to actually DO it??"

I've read several books about learning and education, many of them written by Brits or Americans or Australians who were writing about the systems and students in those countries, and I lost interest after a while as so little of what was written was relevant to my situation here in Japan. This book I found it to be highly relevant to me in my situation.

This isn't the most concise precis of Leamson's book and you'd probably be better off reading the reviews on amazon. As this is a blog, let me point you to the path I took in getting to Leamson's book: first, visit the index page of Ed Nuhfer's Nutshell Notes then starting with Vol 7 (1999) issue #7 read (in order) the ones about William Perry,

then to Leamson.

2 comments:

farideh said...

dear Marcopolo,
I think university proffessors can
feel this gap of course with assistance of students.
I'm studying English literature at university as a sophomore. some of
my proffessors are really helping us to learn how to THINK.
Farideh Esmaelie

daniel said...

thanks for the long response...i should probably put this guys book in the summer reading pile....that i'll start when the kids start going to summer camp in about 8 years. ;-)