Teach yourself

In every profession there are people who fail to conduct themselves according to the dictates of their occupation.

There are wayward accountants who “forget” to file their own tax returns, medical doctors who are overweight and smoke, and clergy who seem to ignore their own religious precepts.

Still, it is astonishing that teachers, notably in post secondary institution, do not know how to teach in the modern world.

Post-secondary institutions have existed for centuries. Oxford University in England began early in the Middle Ages, and Cambridge started in the 11th century. In North America the College of William and Mary started in the 17th century, as did Harvard University.

In Canada, McGill began in Montreal in 1821 and the University of Toronto opened its doors in 1827.

Probably because of deep roots in the past, post-secondary institutions have remained in tradition that are centuries old in their ways of teaching. It is surprising that they have been so laggard.

A student at any of the aforementioned places would feel right at home with their counterparts in the past. The power of the academic guild is the problem. Professors have little obvious reason nowadays to focus on teaching. They assume incorrectly that they must publish or perish. If they do not appear in the right journals, they will fail.

However, they have insufficient incentives to produce usable research, and all but forgotten is their mission to teach.

Then too, with the student population soaring, lecture halls have reached enormous size, and students have too little contact with their professors. Academics everywhere have a herd mentality, and fail to take advantage of modern technology.

As the McGill Alumni Bulletin has stated, “Increasingly students are listening to their courses on their laptops, far from campus.” McGill is a pioneer of advanced teaching technologies. There are many classrooms equipped with a lecture recording system that records lectures and posts them online. That permits students to review the course material at their own pace. Other innovations include “Clicker,” where students can respond to questions posed by professors.

With these types of changes, post secondary institutions can reach a much larger audience, and there is less need for “brick and mortar” building. Massive open online courses (M00Cs) will revolutionize the industry and engage multitudes of students hitherto shut out.

Effective online learning certainly is the “wave of the future”, that will be of tremendous benefit to society. These revolutionary changes have immense implications for our population. Three cheers for M00CS!

Universities once again can concentrate on teaching using modern technology, and worry less about fundraising and adding to the physical plant, a boon for all students.



Bruce Whitestone