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Wednesday, September 04, 2002

A Lecture on Seminars- The other interesting Musgraving was on the seepage of seminar classes into the undergraduate realm. A seminar class requires the student to be a scholar, to participate and often lead discussion on an issue. Traditionally, seminars are at best a senior-level class, where students in their major have a knowledge base of the topic to draw upon and the knowledge gap between teacher and student isn't as great. This summer, I was teaching in Warner Southern's Organizational Management (OM) program, where students come in as junior transfers and are at least 23, and in the MBA program, where you have to be about that old since you have to have a bachelor's degree to get in. In fall term, I've been teaching "traditional" undergrads, who are in their late teen and early 20s with a few exceptions; my MBA coursework kicks in next Monday. I was able to have more free-flowing discussions about topics in the OM and MBA programs, since the students are older, more confident and have a larger knowledge base to work from. Younger students, while not dumber, have less confidence and less general knowledge of the world. I'm finding that I have to lecture more and give more detailed questions as conversation starter in my traditional classes than I did in my MBA and OM classes. Younger, less experienced students aren't typically up to the challenge of a seminar course. Smart bloggers, such as Mr. Musgrave, might be up to the challenge, but the majority of undergrads, even at your high-profile schools, don't have the confidence or the knowledge base to act as a junior peer of the professor. In a class of 16, maybe four or five might thrive in the give-and-take of a seminar environment. Most, however, find it easier to absorb information rather than be a co-teacher. Our OM director had an interesting comment Friday night. Are students the customer? No, students are the product, according to Dr. Shmidt. In his view, we're in the business of giving employers well-trained workers. I'm not sure I agree with him. I think they're both customers and products. They (or their parents or employers) are paying the bill, but they are also the product, as we're reshaping their minds with an improved knowledge set. Barbers produce haircuts, the customers are wearing the product. Teachers mold brains, the customer's transformed brain is the product. However, some customers are more informed than others. The younger and less informed they are, the more they need to be treated as a product, as their feedback might be immature and not in their long-term best interest. However, the older and more mature the student gets, the more of an informed consumer they are; their feedback become more valuable and the start to become a more active part of the process. I think that the seminar is better suited to that older, informed consumer of education, where they can be treated as both a customer and a product, while the lecture class treats the student more as a passive, submissive (yeah, sure) "skull full of mush" ready to be transformed to the teacher's liking. This gives the traditional program more of a in loco parentis feel, despite students being adults, while the OM and MBA programs have the student as more of an adult peer. Two different paradigms, and I'm working to adjust to them.

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