Another dot in the blogosphere?

Baking analogy

Posted on: September 3, 2019

Recently I had the opportunity to provide my perspective on a policy and administrative design (PAD) of university courses. I call it a PAD because the pedagogy and learning design seemed secondary.

Consider two institutes of higher learning (IHLs). IHL A is more typical in that it offers 24 hours of class contact time over 12 weeks (i.e., 2-hour classes); IHL B offers 24 hours of class time over 6 weeks (i.e., a truncated semester with 4-hour classes).

Despite the stress place on learners in IHL B, its leaders rationalise that the number of teaching or contact hours from the truncated semester is effectively the same as a typical semester.

How? If you factor in public holidays, semester breaks, exams weeks, and other calendar interruptions, you might get similar numbers of contact time. If you design a curriculum on a spreadsheet, you might buy in to that argument.

Now consider some nuance by focusing on learning. Learning is like baking cookies. You might need to leave them in the oven for 15 minutes at 180°C. If you play the numbers game, you argue that you can bake the cookies in 7.5 minutes at 360°C.

However, you cannot bake cookies faster by simply increasing the temperature. You will burn them because rushing the physics affects the chemistry of baking.

Learning also takes time. Teaching might enable learning as does time allocated for learning. Teaching ability and time during and between classes are within the control of designers of courses. If we rely more on PAD and not on what research and practice tell us, we risk burning out our learners.

Students will still learn, but they will feel the heat of being rushed and overloaded. Assignments and assessments become even more dreaded deadlines (emphasis on dead). Left unchecked, the learning that happens, if any at all, becomes strategic and superficial instead of reflective and deep.

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