Changes in education?

At his blog, Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight recently began a series of posts on a book examining changes in U.S. higher education.  One particular statistic he noted stood out to me:

First, students. Here is a set of facts: From the 1920s to the 1960s full-time college/university students spent approximately 40 hours in academic pursuits — classes and study. Today the students spend 27 hours. That means about 13 hours a week studying. Prior to the 60s it was about 25 hours.

This diminution of time has resulted in no appreciative change in grade point average or upon progress toward completion of the degree.

I should note that at least two of my professors, if not more, have told us that courses are designed around the idea that for every one hour of class time, we spend two hours studying. For one class that’s an additional 6 hours of work, for a total of 9 hours per class. With a full schedule of 5 classes, that adds up to 40 hours per week. So the expectation or standard has not changed, at least not here, but habits have.

I’ve never actually calculated time spent studying outside of class time, so it may well be that I’m meeting expectations, but I suspect not. It’s not easy to do with 3 children and a spouse who is a part-time student as well. I’m sure this wasn’t any different prior to the 60s, but still.

I sometimes wonder if I’m short-changing myself in my education if I don’t use the full 40 hours every week, even if it is to some degree out of my control. On the other hand, it occurs to me that the nature and focus of education is changing. In the face of increasing availability of resources and information, this change might be necessary.

It seems to me that in many respects education is shifting to a focus on laying the foundations and preparing students to use the resources available to them for help. This may not sound any different than the past, but I’m suggesting something slightly different than “learning to do research”. This arises out of my experience learning the Biblical languages, so perhaps my theory applies only in that context.

At least two of my language professors have made a point of saying that there’s no sense in going the long way around learning the Biblical languages if there are shorter, easier ways available. This might sound like the lazy approach, so hear me out.  30 years ago, my language professors would have been required to learn many individual and unusual verb forms for Greek and Hebrew, and they would have been required to memorize the meanings of many hundreds of words. When translating, they would spend much time trying to figure out what word X was and then more time leafing through a lexicon to find out how it’s used. Once they found the meaning(s), they would be expected to memorize them.

These same professors are not insisting on the same rigour in their own students. Why? Because there are many affordable resources available to make the process of translating and interpreting the text much easier–many of them available online. Their theory is that it’s better to get on with the business of reading and enjoying the text and thereby learning the languages, instead of getting bogged down in the work leading up to that.

Is this a good or bad development? I don’t know. It certainly seems to make the learning experience that much more enjoyable. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t make much sense to spend hours memorizing paradigms when the parsing of various verbs is available online at the click of a button or in books organized by chapter and verse. Granted, the hard prep-work may make for a faster progression to smooth and direct reading of biblical Hebrew and Greek, but that kind of reading will presumably come over time anyway.

Whether this applies to teaching and learning outside of the languages, I don’t know.

2 thoughts on “Changes in education?

  1. Leighton Tebay

    I took about a year of greek in bible school in 96/97. A few years afterwards I remembered the alphabet, a very modest amount of vocabulary, and some of the basics. This Christmas I bought myself Logos and it does make word studies ridiculously easy. Having some of the formal education helps me avoid the common mistakes like cherry picking the definition that best fits my agenda.

    At the undergrad level I’d think we’d get further teaching students how to use a good bible program responsibly than spending all the time I did trying to memorize vocabulary and recognizing what case a word is in. If we skipped the memorization and just went to mechanics we might get further. The programs can tell us what the case/mood/tense a word is. We could spend more time on understanding what that means.

  2. Jeff Wheeldon

    But do you take into account all of the self-imposed homework you do? You do extra-curricular readings in theology, run two blogs that help you process your thoughts and receive feedback, and spend your lunch hour talking about theology with me 🙂

    It’s not like you’re playing video games with your time… (that’s just me).

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