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Professors’ reluctance to teach undergraduates

Posted by JASMANSYAH pada Juli 28, 2008

Professors’ reluctance to teach undergraduates

Opinion and Editorial – October 29, 2005

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung

Teaching and research are inherent in faculty development. University professors, in other words, should have both teaching and research skills. However, it is not always easy to develop the ideal balance. In general, there are three groups of faculty on campus, as follows:

First, there are professors who are committed to teaching but not to research.

Second, there are professors who only want to give lectures to graduate students, assuming that graduate teaching confers more prestige.

Third, due to their expertise, some professors are often tempted to ignore their teaching responsibilities. Temptations include seminar invitations or consulting jobs. This phenomenon should be seen as public recognition of the individuals and, indirectly, of the universities they represent.

Among the three, the second type seems to pose the most serious problem, as it could water down the quality of undergraduate education, which is the critical period of higher education. We have noticed the growth of new graduate programs at some universities to the detriment of long-established undergraduate programs.

From my experience, what alumni in the U.S. really value from their college years is neither the curriculum nor the subject matter of the courses. What they value most includes the groups they joined, the professors and students they met, and the friendships they made. Obviously, it is the lecturer — the most permanent actor on campus — who plays the most decisive role in higher education.

In many universities here, the number of PhD holders does not necessarily guarantee the quality of undergraduate education, which is very critical for developing students to live in a changing and fragmented society.

Unfortunately, at the university level, teaching skills are not as valued as research. Apparently no college professor loses his or her job because of substandard teaching. This could account for the low quality of college graduates throughout Indonesia.

It is high time to include teaching skills as part of the criteria for the selection and promotion of faculty members. We cannot assume that a bright PhD holder will have excellent teaching skills. In most cases, it is the students who are best placed to judge their lecturers.

Teaching is a process where knowledge, skills, values and attitudes are explored using available resources. These available resources include books, journals, human beings, physical objects, etc. that provide information necessary for attaining the purpose of teaching. Through the medium of modern information technology (IT), resources are now virtually unlimited and accessible around the clock.

Abundant resources have defined teaching as a flexible process that goes beyond the physical bounds of class and campus. The nature of the available resources also has brought about a new approach to teaching — a big shift from professors framing the way students collect necessary information to a situation where students are empowered to voluntarily find the necessary and the latest information.

Evidently, the first task of teaching is to provide students with the skills to collect and sort information. This underscores the substantial role of IT and the importance of establishing IT as a mandatory course at the undergraduate level.

Teaching has become a multidimensional engagement as the information gathered has become more complex. The variety of information is as unlimited as the interests of the students. Thus, teaching has become more challenging for both professors and students. Both sides learn new things and learn from each other different ways of seeing and doing things.

The new dimensions of teaching as described above essentially define course objectives. Thanks to the Internet we can access knowledge, skills, values and approaches necessary for establishing national or international standards, which should be met by students.

In other words, the objectives and the criteria for passing a course are subject to continued review and can be modified immediately. Consequently, a syllabus might be changed not only at the beginning of a semester but also during the semester, while teaching is already underway.

It is universally acknowledged that the teaching process opens possibilities for both professors and students to explore new dimensions, structures and application of theories, procedures, skills and so on. Information provides them with new insight, knowledge, skills and attitudes; at the same time, it creates the possibility for doubt and curiosity on the part of students.

Thus, teaching serves as a springboard for doing research. The topics discussed during the teaching process can generate new problems or thoughts on the part of professors and students.

From the discussions above, several conclusions follow. To be meaningful, teaching undergraduate students should provide them with skills for critically selecting and sorting information. Teaching should enable them to develop the attitudes of trust and skepticism.

The demands of teaching are now complicated by fast-flowing information and uncertainties in contemporary society. Therefore, college professors ought to be among the best-educated members of society. Finally, we need to strike a balance between teaching and research, graduate and undergraduate teaching, and pure research and applied research.

The writer is a professor of language education at the Indonesian University of Education (UPI) in Bandung. He can be reached at chaedar@bdg.centrin.net.id.

Source: The Jakarta Post

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