Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Logic: You can't fake it"

The book Academically Adrift is causing quite the buzz in higher ed circles, and it's not even officially hit the market yet. Yours truly hasn't read the book, but today's IHE has a summary followed by a litany of approving comments.

The book's thesis?

"How much are students actually learning in contemporary higher education? The answer for many undergraduates, we have concluded, is not much," write the authors, Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, and Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. For many undergraduates, they write, "drifting through college without a clear sense of purpose is readily apparent."...

The main culprit for lack of academic progress of students, according to the authors, is a lack of rigor. They review data from student surveys to show, for example, that 32 percent of students each semester do not take any courses with more than 40 pages of reading assigned a week, and that half don't take a single course in which they must write more than 20 pages over the course of a semester. Further, the authors note that students spend, on average, only about 12-14 hours a week studying, and that much of this time is studying in groups.
The research then goes on to find a direct relationship between rigor and gains in learning:
  • Students who study by themselves for more hours each week gain more knowledge -- while those who spend more time studying in peer groups see diminishing gains.
  • Students whose classes reflect high expectations (more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more than other students.
  • Students who spend more time in fraternities and sororities show smaller gains than other students.
  • Students who engage in off-campus or extracurricular activities (including clubs and volunteer opportunities) have no notable gains or losses in learning.
  • Students majoring in liberal arts fields see "significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study." Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains. (The authors note that this could be more a reflection of more-demanding reading and writing assignments, on average, in the liberal arts courses than of the substance of the material.)
I take it that, if these findings are taken seriously, this is good news for philosophy. And the hypothesis that lack of rigor explains why students often learn quite little in college connects with my own experience. Every year, students in my introductory courses increasingly exhibit "expectations shock," even though I think my expectations are pretty modest (about 12-15 pages of writing each quarter, about 250 pages of reading).

But I also wanted to highlight this comment from the inimitable H.E. Baber, a philosopher at the University of San Diego:
Make those students take logic, the incarnation of rigor: you can't fake it. And philosophy, the royal road to intellectual power.

I believe in what I do.
Yes you do, H.E. Thanks for the morale boost!

1 comment:

  1. I wound up replying to this over at my place:


    A few people have chimed in, if you care to stop by.


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