Reductive Substitution

The Chronicle of Higher Education blogs that “Colleges Consider Using Blogs Instead of Blackboard”.  Jeffrey R. Young’s report from a meeting at CUNY includes no student comments and no mention of learning outcomes or assessment (unless you count the last words of the piece, “online gradebook”, which Blackboard has and WordPress doesn’t).  The emphasis is on ease of use, reliability (CUNY had a three-day outage of its central Blackboard system), ease of use, professors’ notions of student reactions, and especially ease of use.

All of which reinforces my observation that the classroom, whether physical or virtual, is viewed by most participants primarily as a workplace, where instructors and students alike have their assignments to perform, which are the central daily concern.  What’s due and when, how many pages are required, are the references supposed to be APA or MLA format, can I use Wikipedia…

The implicit mental model is that learning can be counted on as a side-effect of doing the assignments according to rule.  But since so much time and attention goes into the conventional classroom behaviors of both teachers and students, the chief learning effect is to reinforce those behaviors, which leads only to a classroom sort of competence, not to a strong capability to contribute to our world.

In this way, the key product of the educational process is squeezed out of sight by a process of reductive substitution so pervasive and automatic that it is largely invisible to those most intimately involved.


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