Copying America

August 29, 1997

DEARING recommendations in favour of better formal training for teachers in higher education are to be applauded, and my own institution offers an excellent opportunity for both new and existing teachers to take a postgraduate diploma which aims to achieve just that.

But there are significant differences in "teaching" between higher education and elsewhere. In school one learns to be taught, whereas in higher education one learns to learn. This means different teaching approaches; paradoxically, students have to be weaned off teaching as they know it.

If I teach a topic in a way that leaves my students knowing about it but unable to continue to learn without a teacher, then in some ways I may be a "good" teacher. But if I "teach" in such a way that the students become progressively less dependent on me and can continue to learn in my absence, then I have achieved a much higher ideal.

Unfortunately the students may not perceive it at that level. Perversely, it may even be interpreted as "poor" teaching. One group of "mature" students openly admitted to me that they preferred to be "spoon-fed" because taking responsibility for their own learning was too much like hard work.

Much of education consists of teaching students to be able to provide answers to questions set by others, classically in tests and exams. But the real way we learn to learn is by finding ways to formulate and ask questions of our own. Structured and progressive questioning is a high-level skill to which too little attention is paid.

John Wilson

Department of business information management University of Central Lancashire

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