Report from the Academic Front

Yesterday’s post from the Academic Front in the war against stupidity magically disappeared.  That is, just as I hit the publish button, the wireless in my hotel room somehow went down, meaning that my post magically disappeared with it.

In some respects this whole academic conference thing is kind of like going to a Fringe Festival. What looks good in the program might actually not be so good.  You have to count on the word on the street to determine what might actually be useful, novel and entertaining. Yes, I am like my students. I demand to be entertained while being educated.

Yesterday I went to a Professional Development Workshop (PDW) entitled “Being a Leader and the Effective Exercise of Leadership: An Ontological Model”.  Hosted by Werner Eberhardt, Michael Jensen (the man who brought you Jensen’s Alpha) and some woman from the US Air Force Academy.  Their belief? You can’t learn to be a leader by understanding the “idea of a leader”.  You have to learn to be a leader by “being a leader”.  I have a few quibbles with some of the underpinnings of their model (especially around the idea of authenticity), but overall, I think their viewpoint has more than a little validity. I plan to look up their supporting research. 

So what’s my beef? They read me 150 PowerPoint slides word for word, with about 100 words per slide. Their argument for doing so? Twofold: First, that by reading out loud as the audience reads to themselves, it increases retention by about 40%. Second, that in order to “download” the volume of information being presented, this methodology was necessary.  Both of these arguments seem weak in face of what educational researchers tell us about adult learners.

By 40 minutes into the session I was squirming in my seat. I left at one hour. Everything I have learned about multi-tasking, cognitive load and pedagogy tells me that this approach to teaching and learning doesn’t meet with adult learners needs.  If you need me to have advance knowledge of key concepts in your model, have me do an advance reading. Then engage me with the material, require me to have reflection, but for goodness sake, don’t treat me like a four-year old.

The organizers claim that in the five-day and full semester versions of this course, they receive extremely high evaluations.  When they showed the evaluation questions, it was clear why.  Most of the questions were leading or biased.

Moral of the story, you can’t always tell what’s in the tin by reading the label.


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