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It seems to me that reorienting our thinking about students
is in process: on the one hand, our old model is, "We teach,
students learn; they're hear to acquire something they don't
have." I used to refer to this as the "Fill 'em up" approach
to education - open the top of the skull, pour it in.
Consumerism, intensifying competition, and some significant
distance between academic values, beliefs in our own worth,
etc. and the practical needs of students and society around
us, have all conspired to call the old model into question.
So, students are customers; students have alternatives, and
therefore we will lose them to other institutions or other
pursuits if we don't please them; and much of what's
insisted on in school, has little apparent relevance to many
students. The current decline in support for education
across the country has roots in these trends, I believe,
because many of us haven't thought through our content or
approach for far too long. We haven't made our case with the
students, or their parents and employers.
 
So one role for students is to encourage us (compell us?) to
explain why we are doing what we're doing. Another is to
raise issues for us - telling us their preferences and
concerns. A third is to work through and problem solve
around the changes we need to make: after all, if students
stay away in droves, our educational enterprise will fail.
The difficulty here is that the old model's assumptins of
hierarchy and control really structure status and priviledge
input: Faculty give, students receive. To shift into taking
students and their concerns seriously confronts us with the
need to redefine our obligation as adults dealing with young
people (some of whom are not adult), and with the embedded
filtering functions that colleges and universities have
traditionally filled. Grades, rites of passage, and
certification as gateways controlling access to jobs,
careers and social status contaminate the learning process
badly, and make the transition to "learning organization"
quite difficult, it seems to me.
 
Ideally, students should bring new knowledge into the
organization (new issues, perspectives and concerns, at bare
minimum, even if we probably should not expect them to bring
in new knowledge in the sense of theories, facts or
philosophies). Faculty and administrators must listen to
students and include them in the discussion if this is to
happen, and that will already require learning some new ways
of interacting.
 
Mariann Jelinek, Ph.D. <[log in to unmask]>
Richard C. Kraemer Professor of Business
Graduate School of Business Administration
College of William & Mary