Deep Learning

We are, I hope, going to be hearing a lot about this study (follow the links to download the report itself) over the next few weeks. We already are, to some degree. The study, from Gallup, Purdue University, and the Lumina Foundation, concludes that:

if graduates recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in all aspects of their well-being. 

The study is called Great Jobs, Great Lives: The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report and describes itself as “a study of more that 30,000 college graduates across the U.S.”

At odds with prevailing assumptions that well-being is based simply in financial security and success, the report claims that:

Well-being is the combination of all the things that are important to each individual — it is how people think about and experience their lives. A common misconception is to confine well-being to just some areas — to believe that well-being is only about being happy or wealthy, or to make it synonymous with physical health. Rather, it is about the interaction and interdependency between many aspects of life such as finding fulfillment in daily work and interactions, having strong social relationships and access to the resources people need, feeling financially secure, being physically healthy, and taking part in a true community. (4)

This fits well with the goals of John Dewey and is a return to a vision of life that is out of step with contemporary neoliberal assumptions of what a life should be–at least for those not of the elite. It presupposes the importance of human interaction even in education (something the programmed instruction and teaching machine experts discovered fifty years ago), carrying an implicit warning against too great a reliance on “distance” education in any of its forms, from MOOCs down to small online course sections.

There is absolutely nothing new in the findings of this study, at least, nothing new to people who have been involved directly with students in higher-education environments. However, most of today’s decisions-makers in higher education (as in all education, unfortunately) are not those with direct experience outside of their own education (likely many years ago and at an elite institution). This study appears at an opportune time, then, for it may become a wedge useful in separating these ‘education thought leaders’ from influence on modes of learning. It may help us reduce the move toward mechanized education and replacement of the teaching profession with temporary and part-time workers.

One of the findings:

If an employed graduate had a professor who cared about them as a person, one who made them excited about learning, and had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their dreams, the graduate’s odds of being engaged at work more than doubled. Only 14% of graduates have had all three. (7)

Education, as we all should know, cannot be reduced to “outcomes” or measurements. Yet it is “outcomes” and “assessment” that have become the rallying cries of state governments, boards of trustees, and accrediting bodies nationwide. They are reducing education to training and making it a sterile and boring task–simply because they cannot understand the unquantifiable and/or are unwilling to trust in it. The study finds:

Graduates who felt “supported” during college (that professors cared, professors made them excited about learning, and had a mentor) are nearly three times as likely to be thriving than those who didn’t feel supported. (7)

Imagine trying to list “a feeling of support” as a Student Learning Outcome!

The report dismisses the idea that it is the quality of the institution that predicates student success. Instead, it is the quality of interaction with professors.

The study concludes:

A national dialogue on improving the college experience should focus on ways to provide students with more emotional support, and with more opportunities for deep learning [my emphasis] experiences and real-life applications of classroom learning. (19)

Many of us members of American faculties have been advocating this sort of discussion for decades, getting nowhere as corporate ideas of vertical management have seeped into education instead. The battle is close to lost–and I don’t think this one study will turn the tide against a neoliberal ideology that reduces everything to a mythic “free market” model of confirmation. But it does affirm that we can still have hope; from one can come many. As Shelley writes:

Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

We can only hope–and do our best to prepare for the thaw.

2 thoughts on “Deep Learning

  1. Pingback: 5/13/2014 – Who Betrayed Brown?

  2. I WISH someone would outline specifically what constitutes teaching-learning-teaching. (Its a circle and the teacher also learns). What are the CONTENT SPECIFICS– of art, philosophy, history, science? What constitutes a really good curriculum? All we get is some vague bromides about follow your dreams. Where is the history course that teaches how the US broke away from the European monarchy and proceeded to expand based on unequal trade to the point that it became such a rich country based on impoverishing others? How it poured money into the treasury by waging war on poor countries? How it managed to break down racism only to integrate it? How the economy has disappeared into the maw of foreign, but privately owned banks? This are the kinds of questions that should be discussed but instead we get knee jerk patriotism that papers over what really happened, to the point that 300 million Americans think they are one thing and they are actually something else and don’t know it, because they have been seriously mis-educated.

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