During my quarter of a century teaching at the University of Nottingham and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland I’ve seen the growth of ‘educationalists’. They purport to improve teaching standards by fostering an interest in the ‘discipline’ of ‘pedagogy’ (why do they insist on pronouncing this ‘pedagodjee’?)
Have they done so?
They manufacture more and more hoops for those at the chalk-face to jump through.
They spin all sorts of guff about improving the student experience. They do this by giving the students questionnaires to fill in every week about this, that and the other. They are asked to grade individual staff on the basis of quality of handouts, or use of technology, or approachability, and much more.
They write garbage such as:
- purposeful reflection (thinking, but at €100 an hour);
- impactful research (difficult, since Medical Education Journals are pretty risible);
- student centered e-portfolios (students do something online, the teachers ignore it);
- the flipped classroom (getting students to read ahead and then asking questions during a ‘lecture’);
- dynamic/personalized/bespoke Learning Environments (A place online to dump powerpoints);
- student-led teaching, peer teaching (letting the students do the work while the staff do experiential research into different varieties of coffee);
- interprofessional education (talking to each other).
As sociology was once defined as the study of those who don’t need to be studied by those who do, so medical education is the study of those who teach by those who can’t, won’t, and certainly shouldn’t.
And the sad thing is that the tail now wags the dog. Educationalists now call the shots. The result is that students are not now taught anything much. Students must reinvent the wheel for themselves. They are lectured about the ‘science’ of learning—in truth not a science at all, merely tendentious opinion.
University ‘teachers’ are appointed to lectureships on the basis of knowing a great deal about hardly anything. What matters for their career advancement is how many publications they produce, and in what journals. Chances are that to them the teaching and nurturing of students is a distraction. The ability to distil complex concepts as an introduction for the neophyte matters not one jot.
Students pay fees. At the College of Surgeons medical school (despite the name, for undergraduate medics not just surgeons), a medical student now pays over €50K a year. Just think what could happen if the students started to use this power. Oh yes, of course, silly me, what would happen is that they would not get their degrees, so they would not be able to earn enough money to pay off their student loans.
What is the solution?
Simples, as Aleksandr Orlov might say:
- separate teaching and research and fund research separately;
- abolish student fees.
- let students pay teachers directly, on the spot: they would flock to the good ones who would be suitably rewarded.