Overblown students’ egos ignore teachers’ expertise

Undergraduate-led learning environment is eroding academics’ authority, Jack Grove writes

May 9, 2013

Source: Report Digital

Who knows best? Are students’ and teachers’ opinions equally valid?

Undergraduate-led learning is helping to create a generation of narcissistic students convinced of their own self-worth and dismissive of academics’ expertise.

That is the view of Ann O. Watters, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, who says the pendulum has swung too far in favour of valuing student contributions over those of academics.

Writing in the latest edition of The Journal of General Education, Dr Watters - who is also emeritus lecturer at Stanford University’s programme in writing and rhetoric, and a practising clinical psychologist - says the move away from traditional teacher-led lectures had not been entirely negative.

“Ditching the teacher-centred, authoritarian pedagogy many mature academics were trained in…seemed like a good idea,” she writes. “Promoting active and engaged students, appealing to student interest and promoting a more community-based and democratic enterprise made sense.”

However, today’s student-led learning environment, which stresses the importance of student voices and experiences, has led to a loss of teachers’ authority within the classroom, she contends.

Teachers report widespread resistance to critical feedback or evaluation, with students asserting that all opinions are equally valid and dismissing their instructor’s in-depth knowledge of a subject, Dr Watters says.

“If we and our pedagogy encourage such high opinions of student work, can we really be surprised when they take us at our word?” she asks.

The growing “student-as-consumer” culture also raises students’ sense of status within a university, smashing the traditional campus hierarchies, Dr Watters adds.

She recounts how instructors on one of her programmes were forced to “flog their courses” to first- and second-years at a “poster night”, where they would stand by a poster on the module as students wandered by, saying “give me your spiel”.

Group discussions were often dominated by confident, talkative students and “overvalued trivial, idiosyncratic utterances and undervalued potential guidance from the more experienced”, she writes.

“We could strive to value more the subtle, quiet thinkers - the students who shine in their work and writing, but are not the active, constantly verbal, extroverted personalities who make our work easier by participating in discussions,” argues Dr Watters.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Dr Watters said she had seen this “epidemic of narcissism” at several universities, with students on different types of course overvaluing self-expression and lacking empathy.

“It’s all just gone rather too far and needs to scale back,” she said.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Academic Director CENTRE FOR EUROPEAN & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
Lecturer in Politics & International Relations UNIVERSITY OF HERTFORDSHIRE (MAIN ADDRESS)
Research Grant Capture Team Administrator NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

Globalisation

Times Higher Education World University Rankings data reveal the top 200 most outward-looking institutions

Common cactus finch (Geospiza scandens)

Tiffany Taylor on a thought-provoking view of the forces acting to ensure survival

Student asking question during class

University of Reading research finds link between undergraduate satisfaction and ethnicity of lecturers

Stressed businessman answering four telephones

Some surveys show faculty putting in at least 60 hours a week, but research casts doubt on whether this is a productive routine

Level of quality compass

Authors argue this means universities should spend less on senior academics and give promising younger scholars more of a chance