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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

The Anti-College?

— Those interested in residential colleges and in the cultivation of rich educational environments can benefit from imagining what the antithesis of a residential college might be. Perhaps it would be similar to what author and educator Brian Alger describes in his weblog:

This is my son’s first year in university. He was accepted into the Commerce Program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Our family was as proud as any family could be. He’s worked hard and has earned the right to a higher education…. What we’re finding, however, is that we no longer understand what the word “higher” has to do with education.

My son decided to take Psychology as an elective and has now completed one full term…. Twice per week my son joins a group of students in a barren classroom setting. The professor has never appeared in real life, not once, but instead delivers lectures via videotape. The students watch the videotape and take notes. Once per week a seminar takes place with the aid of a teaching assistant to help answer any questions about the videotape or the required reading…. While my son is sitting in the classroom with his classmates, identical “lectures” are taking place in other parts of the campus simultaneously and after looking at the course calendar it is clear that these “lectures” are being presented to thousands of students…. And all this for the sale price of a mere $12,000 (CDN) per year—what a great deal!

When my son asks me why we have to pay for this I have no answer that will satisfy him. He recalls high school with pleasure and notes the relationships he was able to build with his teachers—this human interaction was key for him as it is for all of us. We do accept that he must complete the university course and move on regardless of what we might think about it. His solution has been to skip classes, read the textbook and write the exams—he doesn’t even need to show up anymore—and his marks are just fine. His motivation, however, has been rocked to the core and his interest in Psychology is waning due only to the insufferable boredom in its presentation. All we can do is hope that somehow the successive years will be better in the Darwinian maze of the university—I think the survivors of this nonsense get to meet real people eventually. If the medium is the message, then both the medium and the message, in this context, are stupid. It’s not even a good movie theatre and we can get into those for $12. Any professor that believes this experience has anything to do with learning, education or teaching is one to avoid.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021