Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Are Teachers Responsible for Student Learning?

JennyD asks the question, linked in the title. There are many good comments on her article. Please visit her site and read them. I want to relay this story from a colleague of mine, which I think is very relevant.

Dr. L teaches Quality Control. The students are mostly in Mechanical Engineering. When he talks about analyzing a production process, he asks the students what role they take, and what role he takes, in the production process. The roles to consider are Manager, Worker, Customer, and Product. He says that invariably, they say that he is the worker and they are the customers. This leads to a lively discussion.

OK, if you are the customers, what is the product you are buying? Knowledge.
So, if I am the worker, then I create knowledge in you? Yes.
Do I really have that ability? Don't you think that if I could actually create knowledge in you I wouldn't be here, I'd be on the lecture circuit making megabucks selling my secret? Well....
So who really creates the product? We do.
That makes you... The workers.
And then I must be... The manager.

I'm not sure if he answers the question of who the customers are. In a sense they could be the students, the parents, the future employers, or society. All of these have a role in paying for the product, and all benefit from it.

But my main point here is that the students are almost stunned to think of the teacher as the manager rather than the worker. They have been led to believe, all through their educational experience, that the teacher is their employee, and is responsible for providing them with a product. This example shows that is not quite the case. The role of the manager is to organize work in a productive, efficient process that will result in a quality product. The teacher does not produce the product himself, he organizes the work of the students so that they will produce it. If he is a good teacher and has a good workforce, the product will have high quality. Otherwise...

See also the Instructivist's article on this subject.

[Apologies--I didn't realize I was referencing articles a couple of months old. Still, it was a good excuse to post this story.]