January 17, 2019 2 min read 0 Comments
University instructors don’t give feedback. Sure, a grade is given, but real criticism—the kind designed to change behavior during a teacher’s tenure with a student—has an incidence asymptotically approaching zero in most universities.
When I started teaching thirty years, I was told by a slightly more experienced professor that the ways to get good teacher evaluations from students (which are always conducted before students receive their final grades) were: 1) never give anything but praise to students until course evaluations have been submitted; and 2) before course evaluations, ensure that all appraisals were numerical and factual (true-false or multiple-choice exams) – on which students only have themselves to blame for a poor grade. Of course, computer-based exams can give immediate feedback on knowledge, but those tests cannot explore the grey-areas that naturally are a part of our human experience.
Now, after decades of this kind of risk-averse behavior in universities, it appears to me the art-form of real, caring professor-to-student admonition may have been lost forever. Future professors are not learning how to do this from their current professors – because professor today no longer know how to do it themselves. And when the oddball instructor does exhibit the propensity to give real criticism to real students, administrators intervene and “counsel them out” of these behaviors. No administrator wants a student with hurt feelings wandering around campus complaining.
If universities and professors are no longer capable of criticism, how can students learn to change the way they think and act?
Oddly, technology may have to be the answer. We know that it is possible to build Interactive Learning eXperiences (I-L-X) that can put complexity, immediate feedback, and intergenerational transmission of wisdom into a videogame-like activity. We know, because we have done it.
I would, naturally, rather see real university instructors helping students learn to be human. But, in this case, technology may have to guide today’s professors in recovering this lost art form. And, in the process, restore higher education’s necessary role in improving graduates' capacities to thrive in the face of the convolution and ambiguity of modern life.