The forgotten voice

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Editorial by Diana Hall

The state of university education has had a lot of play in the media lately. Experts across Canada – from columnists to professors – are weighing in on the fortes and fractures of Canadian universities.

On the other side of the spectrum, the average student voice is largely muted – but there’s a lot to be frustrated about.

Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail says better education means more “classroom time” for professors and students. But the problem isn’t the time spent in lectures and tutorials: it’s the studentcontent relationship.

The issue is how students receive material – and it isn’t a blanket formula. Professors who speak a comfortable language of one-size-fits-all content don’t assess individual student needs outside of entrepreneurial hubs. But who can blame professors alone? Unless students can delve intelligently and aggressively into the gaps between what they learn and how they learn, getting better quality content, presentation and interaction out of “classroom time” won’t happen.

The pressure to challenge students in any field to engage in critical, creative thinking is as much the student’s job as it is the professor’s. The extra attention required would make education personal. The horror.

“Innovate or perish,” John Manley, a former Liberal deputy prime minister, said of the post-secondary predicament in a 2009 edition of

Maclean’s magazine. He was right, but students aren’t just a source of capital. They have to be seen as more than just pawns in the university business model.

Three-year degrees and a tidal wave of online courses will pump out graduates like popcorn, but at the cost of diluted content and understanding.

The higher education experts spoke unto the student body, and said: “let them be educated.” And the average student is silently eating it up.

What Canada’s universities need is a uniform assessment strategy, multi-platform exercises and conversations.

Pedagogy can improve immensely by making content more interactive and by sharing models with other universities (like resources used in massive open online course modules tweaked for in-class delivery, for instance.) Students are the guinea pigs sitting at the desks.

They’re the ones skipping class because the textbook says everything professors do. They use the clickers in classrooms and take the online courses in the summer. How do we measure whether students are getting a bang for their buck – or is it a whimper?

If students really are suffering from a crumbling system, digging themselves out may be the most educational exercise of all.

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