I’m thinking about running away!
Meanwhile, for those of you who just can’t bear a pure “fluff” post with a pretty young woman instead of a smelly ballsack or a contaminating application of menstrual blood, here’s some food for thought. Via reader and commenter Susan, Adam F. Falk, President of Williams College, writes “In Defense of the Living, Breathing Professor:”
Most of us in higher education take the long view about the value of what we do. Sure, students graduate with plenty of facts in their heads. But the transmission of information is merely the starting point, a critical tool through which we engage the higher faculties of the mind.
What really matters is the set of deeper abilities—to write effectively, argue persuasively, solve problems creatively, adapt and learn independently—that students develop while in college and use for the rest of their lives.
At Williams College, where I work, we’ve analyzed which educational inputs best predict progress in these deeper aspects of student learning. The answer is unambiguous: By far, the factor that correlates most highly with gains in these skills is the amount of personal contact a student has with professors. Not virtual contact, but interaction with real, live human beings, whether in the classroom, or in faculty offices, or in the dining halls. Nothing else—not the details of the curriculum, not the choice of major, not the student’s GPA—predicts self-reported gains in these critical capacities nearly as well as how much time a student spent with professors.
What follows from this finding is obvious, but apparently in need of saying these days: What we do is expensive—and worth it—because these rich, human interactions can’t be replaced by any magical application of technology.
Yeah, but you can’t infinitely scale up faculty contact hours without hiring more faculty, so I’m guessing that Falk’s ideas are not in danger of becoming the latest trend in higher edutainment. It’s harder to skim the cream to feed fat administrative salaries if the faculty are making a living and aren’t balkanized into regular and “special,” or divided into F2F and online teachers.
I’m glad Falk wrote this, although it reminds me of that old Fawlty Towers line about the Bleeding Obvious. I’m also reminded of that old joke about divorce:
Q. Why are divorces so expensive?
A. Because they’re worth it!
Falk’s argument seems to boil down the same way: Why are Liberal Arts educations so expensive? Because they’re worth it. (Confidential to Mr. Falk: are you accepting job applications? If not, can I be the founding member of your fan club anyway?)