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Saturday, March 8, 2014

does change in the SAT give us hope? not really, but something is in the air

It is a rare moment that I am hopeful about our educational system, but in the last week, there has been some reason to be optimistic.

The news has been alive with the usual silliness about educational change. What has been different is people are starting to react in interesting ways.

Take the announcement that the SAT is going to change. This was major news on the national news networks. To me, of course, all this meant that a really dumb multiple choice test would now become a different dumb multiple choice test. Since multiple choice tests are all about efficiency of grading and really test nothing except memorization and adeptness at test taking, I was unmoved.

But others had some good stuff to say:

Leon Botstein. President of Bard College, and a radical after my own heart, wrote something very nice in Time magazine:

entitled: SAT Is Part Hoax, Part Fraud

Even the New York Times, that bastion of educational conservatism printed a very good article by Jennifer Bouillon entitled: Save Us From the SAT

Of course, the New York Times also printed why the SAT change was wonderful really:

Nevertheless people are starting to show their disgust with the system. There was this, for example, from Wired about college:

Entitled: Colleges Need to Act Like Startups — Or Risk Becoming Obsolete

and there was this in Slate:

entitled: PowerPointless: Digital slideshows are the scourge of higher education.

It was this last one that really got my attention. A professor admitting that standing up and reading PowerPoint slides might not actually be good educational practice? Amazing. It included tweets from students that said:

““for class today I’ll be reading the PowerPoint word for word.” every professor, everywhere””

“Being a college professor would be easy. Read off a PowerPoint you made 10 years ago and give online quizzes with questions you googled.”

“College basically consists of you spending thousands of dollars for a professor to point at a PowerPoint and read the bullets.”

The students are starting to object to how undergraduates are treated. Undergraduate education has become a very expensive and pointless exercise. As long as we keep insisting that “everyone must go to college” nothing will change. But when the College Board, the driver behind the SAT, starts getting scared, and believe me they are scared, there is hope.

For those who are wondering what it is I am for, it is simple really:

  1. learning through experience
  2. learning through just in time mentoring
  3. learning to do things, not know things
  4. learning that is meant to help you do something you actually might do in the real world
  5. testing of performance not memorization

Online education has been so awful in the last ten years (MOOCs being the height of the absurdity) that I am loathe to suggest that the improvement must come from developing high quality online experiences that meet the above 5 criteria. 
But there is no other way. Colleges have no incentive to change their ways.