Sunday March 27, 2016

'That's where the magic happens': A professor takes on critics of higher education

Was your university education worth it?

Was your university education worth it? (Getty Images)

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University students are lazy. Their attention spans are lacking. Their instructors? A rotating cast of temporary employees who rely too heavily on Youtube videos and scantron exams. And worst of all, there's the administrators who turn a blind eye to the lack of substantive teaching happening in their classrooms, as long as the tuition fees keep rolling in. 

Over the past few decades, those have been the general criticisms levied at higher education, and this year is no different. 

But Aimée Morrison, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, argues the irony of that type of criticism is that they are often authored by the very people charged with ensuring the quality of higher education. 

"Students are showing up with wildly different life experiences and instead of just being already prepared to get their B.A's, we actually have to teach them," she says. 

One of the issues that is often ignored in the criticism of post-secondary education, Morrison says, is the democratization of access and that since the Second World War, Canadian universities have seen mass participation from women, new immigrants, and lower-income families. 

As a result, she says, often in her own classes she deals with students whose parents never went to university but who have been repeatedly told that a university education is a key to success. 

"Higher education is supposed to be a tool of social that is where we have an ethical obligation to really reach out and teach those students, particularly the ones who are struggling because often they come from less privileged backgrounds."

But what about all the Youtube videos and courses on Beyonce and Rinaldo? 

Morrison shrugs off the notion that course on popular culture lack academic rigour, and says she herself uses a lot of Youtube clips, but says the responsibility lies with her to help her students understand why the material is both inherently interesting and potentially useful. 

"What really draws me to the professing part of my professor job is this opportunity to engage with 17, 18, 19-year olds who only signed up for my class because it doesn't start at 8:30 in the morning, how I can get them to eventually leave my class and say 'huh! I really learned a lot and I won't look at this type of video the same way ever again because I learned something in your class'. That is where the magic happens!"