Going to a school focused on art and design, I take very few traditional classes such as English, math, or science while the others are centered around foundation and major specific courses. Just as we aren’t required to take many traditional classes our classroom settings also vary from that of a typical state college.
On the first day of classes I always dread walking in and seeing a full class of 30 students because to me even that feels crowded and overwhelming; yet other schools can have large lecture classes with over 100 students in them. I feel extremely fortunate to be apart of a community that focuses on cultivating creativity and delivering individual attention. General education has a rich history that has been long developed, while the system for art education goes unprecedented allowing it to be much more dynamic and tailored. Unfortunately not everyone is interested in art and design so they aren’t able to receive the benefits of an innovative driven environment. I have friends who are also pursuing a higher education through college, but I’m astonished when I hear about their typical course structure. It reflects the same level of thinking and challenge of that posed in a high school environment; all that changes is an increased workload within more specific subjects. Still students are being asked to memorize information, and are not allowed to use their books or the internet when taking tests. I’ll admit that it’s similar here in some of my classes, but only to a certain extent.
This widely accepted rule got me thinking. What does it show when a test can’t be open book? It shows that the class is relying on factual recollection and formulated remembrance. It isn’t a means of understanding, but rather it’s a game of memory. So why do we still insist on strengthening our memory skills around formal information?
Pictured above is Bloom’s Taxonomy which is used to classify thinking into six cognitive levels of complexity ordering from most complex at the top down to least complex at the bottom. Each level is subsumed by the level above it meaning in order to analyze one must have already mastered application, understanding, and remembering. Although remembering serves as a base it is also the least advanced level of thinking; in fact our k-12 education largely focuses on this level so why are we still focusing on this in extended education such as in colleges and universities? This isn’t to say that I don’t think remembering isn’t important — as stated early it serves as a base and allows us to develop a higher level of thinking — but don’t you think that we’ve already worked on this base enough? When are we going to actually start developing a higher level of thinking? The trouble with classes in college that focus on remembering specific information lies in the fact that it is actually embedding a type of remembering that is only temporary. The extend of our memory is being shaped to exist only in the context of a classroom and on test day, which is based on the reliance of related information. This is a problem because our memory then suffers when it is out of that context. We are teaching students to recall facts and events rather than teaching them to be attentive and aware of their surroundings. We are learning to remember on command instead of at our own will, and thus we do not remember details in our lives. I would rather a student remember a face and a name of a stranger they just met than a math formula because you can google what that math formula is, but you can’t google the name or face of a person you can’t recall. This game of memory comes down to: What do we have at our disposal? The answer is almost everything except for the highest levels of thinking.
Am I suggesting that we rethink and restructure higher education? Yes. Am I presenting a way in which we should go about that? Not exactly, but this a topic worth discussing. I don’t believe there needs to be a radical shift in how we teach, but rather we should consider how information is being used and consumed. An ability to remember information is certainly important, but that shouldn’t be the sole basis of general education across the board. Courses need to be structured so that they incorporate all levels of thinking, from remembering all of the way to creating. So where do we start? We start with everything being open book and allowing access to the internet. Let’s strive for a higher level of thinking in all disciplines; not just in creatives.