University Education is Broken

And no one is going to help us fix it

By VICTOR ANJOS

For years I have been getting students from co-op programs, experience year programs, internships, etc… from all sort of universities around North America (and often from outside this continent).  As with anything, YMMV when employing unfinished products (i.e. co-ops and interns are not really ready for the world), and much of this comes down to the way Universities and the entire education system at large is set up for; to profit!

Here is a typical lecture

Once you’ve sat down, the professor will introduce the day’s topic and will go through the lecture slides. Occasionally, they may pause to ask if anyone has questions—if not, students continue to watch the slide show. Depending on your professor, they might add pop quizzes just to make the slide presentation more engaging but mostly, a lecture requires you to sit and listen to the professor read the lecture slides to you.

… comes down to the way Universities and the entire education system at large is set up for; to profit!”

So what gives right?  Well, there are three main reasons why these facilities of higher education fail…

Professors are NOT educators

Professors are not teachers. Teachers are not professors. When I was in high school, I was taught by teachers, individuals who were trained how to teach and manage the classroom. Their training involves understanding child development, learning theories and the cognitive connections to learning (i.e. the psychology behind learning). Professors on the other hand, are individuals who possess in depth knowledge through spending years of study in that field. They continually do research and are generally up to date with current discourse in that field of study. Unfortunately, they may be well aware of what is current in that field of study however they do not generally practice any of it in industry, they often just research it, so to the University they are rockstars, but to students they miss the mark. It makes sense for the university to let professors teach at university because students would like to learn from those who have extensive knowledge on any subject. However, professors are not teachers meaning they were not trained on how the process of learning works and how that applies to teaching or lecturing.

Fixing this: Professors should be trained to teach, not lecture. What’s the point of bringing experts to teach in university if their form of deliverance is incompetent?

Lecture rooms suck

Lecture rooms are boring. They are dark halls filled with chairs and a front stage where professors present to students and bombard them with information about real world issues. What if students could tackle those real-world issues presently instead of later when they graduate? When I was in high school in geography class, our teacher took us outside of the classroom to the top of the mountain (our school was on a mountain) so that we could walk down the mountain and trace the profile of a river nearby from its upper course to lower course profile. That way, we were able to make practical connections of the river processes explained in the book and what was in front of us. Imagine, if during your finance class, your professor organised a visit to the local bank, so you witness all the finance theory at work? Educators call this Place based learning and I think it is powerful. 

The interactions between students and teachers also hurt when everyone is set up in the typical lecture hall.  After all, the professor stands at the front, with glorified importance, delivers a grandiose speech where a student shall not disrupt them. Many students doze off, play on their phones, go on social media, etc… mostly because there is little to no interactivity in this classroom model.  The flipped classroom model fixes most of this by getting students to do  most of the course readings and lectures before class and then simply implementing those concepts in course work during class.

Fixing this: Implement flipped classrooms and place-based learning in the university curriculum. Though it can be costly and time consuming to implement, place-based learning can give students access to what their future careers might look like and the flipped classroom leads to much more interaction, discovery and curiosity among students, leading to better graduates.

Lecture slides; really?!?

Lecture slides are useless. I would rather read the textbook by myself than show up to a slide presentation (but I need attendance marks, so I show up anyways; another micro-issue of universities; professors resorting to attendance as grades). Lecture slides are even more useless because they don’t help you to prepare for assessment a.k.a exams and tests. The assessment framework in education is poor at all levels, from kindergarten to university level. The current assessment framework only gives students feedback at the end of the learning period (i.e. end of term exams, projects).

This is problematic because learning is a process and requires continuous feedback. For example, in high school, we used to receive “midterm indicators,” a feedback report on your academic performance up until the first half of the school term. If your teacher was concerned with your performance thus far, you would know about it and hopefully make changes in the following half term. The point is we’re tested too late in university to even care, whereas if assessments were at regular intervals, students can be signaled early on learning gaps (if any) in their learning curve.

Fixing this: Implement early feedback systems as part of assessment framework. Also, semantics is very important here—students’ understanding should be assessed and evaluated but not tested.

So what do you do when all signs point to having to go to University to gain any sort of advantage?  Unfortunately it’s the current state of affairs that most employers will not hire you unless you have a degree for even junior or starting jobs. Once you have that degree, coming to a Finishing School such as 1000ml is the only way forward to gaining the practical knowledge and experience that will jumpstart your career.

Check out our next dates below for our upcoming courses, we’d love to have you there.