Are Universities to Blame for Stagnant Teaching Practices?

University scholarship usually lives at the cutting edge of a given field of study.  The latest technology and the newest practices are often developed and promoted at the university level.  After having 3 student teachers in recent years, I would have to argue that several universities in my area are about 10-20 years behind in technology, pedagogy, and assessment.  I want to be clear, I have had excellent, motivated student teachers.  They are not the problem.  In my opinion the problem is the training and expectations of their university.  To support this accusation, I have observed several patterns over the last 2-4 years of accepting student teachers and student practitioners (those doing their shorter practicum).

  1. An over reliance on the textbook.  When I tell visiting college students I don't use the textbook, they are often concerned about how to find content for the class and how to organize the class. Universities should prepare student teachers for life without a textbook.  Assume it won't be available.  Its an overpriced, obsolete, static resource designed for a time without Internet access.  Student teachers should be learning how to assemble and digitally curate their own content.  That should be a major component of their content education.  
  2. Direct instruction as evidence of good teaching.  When the university comes to evaluate the student teacher, they are explicit about observing direct instruction.  Why is this the observable technique that demonstrates teaching competency?  Should a university really be advocating this so strongly?  Lesson design, disposition, and enthusiasm and far better indicators of effective teaching that out-of-the-gate skill at direct instruction.  
  3. Pre-test and post-test is the main way to demonstrate learning.  I have personal experience with this at the Masters level at one of these universities. The only way I could demonstrate student learning was with a pre/post quiz.  Pre/post tests are such a futile joke and an insult to learning.  Its an attempt to find quantitative data from learning.  Learning, much like art can't be quantified, and most attempts to do so create validity problems and unreliable data.  Talk to your students!  Ask them questions!  Record the conversation if you must.  
  4. What is a PLN?  Despite my student teachers' fantastic motivation to learn, their university hasn't provided the professional scaffolding of a diverse PLN (professional learning network) beyond myself and the university supervisor.  This should be another cornerstone of their methods courses.  Methods change and grow, but if students don't have people to stimulate and challenge them after their student teaching semester they may stagnate.  
  5. Progressive pedagogy is under emphasized.  I have yet to have a student teacher who has any operational knowledge about project-based learning or other progressive student-centered education models.  They are taught (or at least this is what they remember) to use limited direct instruction, but beyond that they don't seem to have lesson structures beyond standing in front of the class.  A few students have found it hard to limit the direct instruction, therefore perpetuating  the same static, unchanging model from the last 100 years.  Why are the universities not the agents of change in education? 
  6. Progressive assessment is not even mentioned.  Every student teacher and student practitioner always asks, 'how do students turn things in' in our 1 to 1 school.  They seem to have no idea about any other alternative.  They should be taught and expected to use authentic audiences and performance assessments.  They should be asking how to publish student work.  What are our presentation standards. What software we use for digital student portfolios.  They should have at least heard about oral defense practices (1 on 1 conversations).  Instead, its more of the same traditional assessment measures. 
Most people seem to agree that education is long overdue for a change, but what keeps this traditional monster from starving?  Some say teacher unions, some say standardized test, but I would like to shift at least a little blame to the universities that could easily influence the new generations of teachers they turn out each year to replace the retiring classes.  An infusion of true reformers every year would change education from the ground up.  I realize there are many leading universities such as Stanford, Harvard, and Vanderbilt, but lets be honest, 90% of the teachers who will be replacing the babyboomers are coming from smaller schools, community colleges, and less prominent teacher education programs.  I think its time to hold university teacher's colleges' feet to the fire.  In this last decade of misplaced educational accountability (not reform) universities seemed to have escaped unscathed.  We can't expect true education reform to come from politicians or testing companies (who usually drive "reform"), so we must focus on institutions who are capable and legitimate.


  1. Justin,

    Excellent points! I have had conversations with others about these same things. I would love to see one of our small colleges or universities take on the task of teaching young educators about the new digital curriculum. THIS IS NOT A FAD!

    Start a fire, fan a flame. Very inspirational!

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks Tony! I would totally agree. If you have the contacts at Manchester or another university I would love to team up and make the case for a shift in their teacher education program. I really think it benefits us all. Thanks for reading!

  2. Wow, fantastіc blog layout! Hοw long have yοu beеn bloggіng fοr?
    you maκe bloggіng look easy. Τhe overall lοok of уour web
    site is magnіfіcent, lеt alone the сontent!
    My website: unsecured loans


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.