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How Are We Supposed to Teach?

Summary:
My day job as a professor is teaching people at the college level. Americas colleges and universities are highly, highly effective as teaching institutions: we boost people’s incomes by about 7% for each year attended, and it looks as though only 2%-points of those 7 are signaling and selection—the rest are true value. Moreover, those who major in my discipline, economics, appear to gain an extra 20% in income relative to those similarly situated who major in some other non-STEM discipline. Plus we genuinely believe that we open mental doors, and give our students the tools they need to live richer lives. But there has long been a problem with colleges and universities as an industry: we do not really understand how we do it. Much of what we do is give lectures, assign readings, and

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My day job as a professor is teaching people at the college level. Americas colleges and universities are highly, highly effective as teaching institutions: we boost people’s incomes by about 7% for each year attended, and it looks as though only 2%-points of those 7 are signaling and selection—the rest are true value. Moreover, those who major in my discipline, economics, appear to gain an extra 20% in income relative to those similarly situated who major in some other non-STEM discipline. Plus we genuinely believe that we open mental doors, and give our students the tools they need to live richer lives.

But there has long been a problem with colleges and universities as an industry: we do not really understand how we do it. Much of what we do is give lectures, assign readings, and administer tests. But the research shows that most of our students learn very little from lectures, are rather poor at learning from readings (when they do them, rather than take a look at the pile we have overassigned and give up), and cram for tests in a way that turns test studying into the opposite of effective reinforcement learning.

The smart money has been that our success as an industry is primarily the result of the social-intellectual rather than the formal-intellectual component of higher education. But we are not sure. This problem, however, has been on the back burner for years… generations… perhaps centuries… because our “customers” have long been highly satisfied.

But now this knowledge problem of ours has suddenly become urgent. The social-intellectual component of education has come crashing down in the age of coronavirus. We badly need to retool. We badly need to retool immediately. Yet we do not know how to do so:

Scott Galloway: How Coronavirus Will Disrupt Future Colleges & Universities https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/05/scott-galloway-future-of-college.html: ‘The value of education has been substantially degraded. There’s the education certification and then there’s the experience part of college. The experience part of it is down to zero, and the education part has been dramatically reduced.... At universities, we’re having constant meetings, and we’ve all adopted this narrative of “This is unprecedented, and we’re in this together,” which is Latin for “We’re not lowering our prices, bitches.” Universities are still in a period of consensual hallucination with each saying, “We’re going to maintain these prices for what has become, overnight, a dramatically less compelling product offering.” In fact, the coronavirus is forcing people to take a hard look at that 51,000 tuition they’re spending.... It’s a great year to take a gap year.... Ultimately, universities are going to partner with companies to help them expand. I think that partnership will look something like MIT and Google partnering. Microsoft and Berkeley. Big-tech companies are about to enter education…

 #berkeley #cognition #noted #teaching #universities #2020-06-04
Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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