Guest post: We identify success as the paper

Originally a comment by iknklast on In middle-of-nowhere Arizona.

Omar, as someone who is a higher education faculty member, I feel the answer to the question of what is the product is of utmost importance. As you said, many see the diploma/graduate as the product. It is not. You said the experience. I think that is important, giving the student experiences that no other setting offers; they may or may not enhance their future career, but they add richness to life.

But the most important product of education is…education. Learning how to think. Learning some facts so you can think about things. Learning how to learn. Learning how to work with others

The product is education; the diploma/degree/certificate is just a certificate of authenticity, verifying that said student learned (or was able to fake learning well enough to fool the faculty, all too easy with some faculty) what the paper says the learned.

Because we get this wrong – the product misidentified – we make huge mistakes in how we approach education. We approach it toward a goal of success, but we identify success as the paper, not as what lies behind the paper. A student who does not complete the degree, but learns tons, is more use than one that completes the degree but learns nothing. (Trump comes to mind for the last; Dubya, too.)

Many of the studies I see on “effective” education seem to interpret success as ‘student is happy’, because few of them that I have seen have actually shown any improvement in learning with the new methods. Those that do, the effect size is so small, and they get significance by generating a larger n, it isn’t worth throwing out things that are working as well and remaking the entire system around a nebulous maybe.

Try telling administrators that. Their eyes gleam at significance, and they never notice small effect. They get to start new projects, hire new administrators, and torture educators, so they will jump on board the newest, latest bandwagon. A year later, that will be declared “ancient” methods and they will move on to the latest shiny squirrel.

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