Don’t Study for Tests

Every once in a while I find something that says exactly what I wanted to say, but better:

I’ve mentioned things like this before when talking about cheating the system, and possibly a few other places, but that article really takes some things and brings them to a logical conclusion that will seem irrational to many people but seem wonderful to me.

I realize that I must seem a little schizophrenic. On one side, I’m pushing articles like this one, which argue that higher education should be about learning for the sake of learning. On the other side, I’m arguing for more useful and more purposeful and possibly even more corporate education. Here is the knife edge on which the two can meet and balance:

Without learning, there is no purpose.

We do need more purposeful education, and we do need more learning-for-the-sake-of-learning, and we need them together. If you’re learning-for-the-sake-of-grades, well… let me try an analogy: Do you want a nurse who worked hard to get A’s so that she could get a good job, or do you want a nurse who worked hard to understand her course material so that she could help others?

I’m not saying that people who study for grades are bad folks (though a lot of TAs and professors I know bad-mouth pre-med majors for this exact behavior). I’m saying that studying for grades is lousy, and grading on knowledge that you can pick up the night before is lousy, and giving people jobs based on their ability to pick up knowledge the night before… well, some jobs need that, I suppose, but probably not all of them.

All of this ties into authentic education and authentic assessment and real-world tasks so tightly that I’m not sure they’re separable.

Changing this behavior is exceptionally tough because it’s baked in at so many levels. If we start changing the students in middle school, their college professors will need to be ready to handle them in six years, and I’m not sure that higher education moves that quickly. Online education could, but right now people are more interested in recreating the existing systems in electronic form. It’s a shame.

Like so many educational improvements, this is a cultural issue, and those are the hardest places to gain traction.


About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on May 7, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Well, you’ll be happy to know that I took that Alfie Kohn article to heart – I’ve asked the department chair if he thinks I could get away with something like that for the course I’m teaching next term, or if there will be too much backlash from the department/college. He said he’ll get back to me after finals.

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