Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Colleges, too

A new study apparently finds that college students aren't learning. Universities are coming in for the same kind of criticism as schools, and to be honest, part of me welcomes the temporary respite. The schools aren't alone in making this supposed malaise we're in.

But, like so much else in contemporary policy discussions, the responses tend to come in the form of questions the commentator thinks s/he can now answer with this long-awaited data.

Do a Google News search of "learning in college" and you'll get articles like "Are students really learning anything in college?" and "Is college really worth it?"

If you to the Collegiate Learning Assessment, you'll find a lot (A LOT) of material, including this sample task that test takers do. Interesting and multi-faceted task. Of course, all we could really claim from the reported results is that 30 per cent (or whatever it is) of students (if the sample of 2000 was adequately representative) didn't improve on the kinds of tasks tested.

We'd have to assume that the tasks tested in the CLA either are the more important things one should learn to do while in college or those tasks are good proxies for whatever we think is good to learn, or both.

The skills, knowledge and wisdom reflected in the task above are worthy, no doubt. Whether they are the most important things to learn is debatable.

And, of course, whether the 30-whatever per cent who didn't improve on the CLA might have learned some other useful things is wholly indeterminate from the information reported.

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