The Duck of Minerva

“A university isn’t Disneyland and professors aren’t Mickey Mouse”

14 May 2013

Ari Kohen on the value of “edutainment“:

Finally, and most importantly, is the central claim that the test of education is whether or not it’s entertaining. Wales asks, “why wouldn’t you have the most entertaining professor, the one with the proven track record of getting knowledge into people’s heads?” Is there evidence that the most entertaining lecture is the one that gets “knowledge into people’s heads”? Again, I’m not suggesting that a boring lecture is going to do the trick, but I’m arguing that entertaining students doesn’t necessarily equate with teaching them something. When I lecture on Kant, I don’t think I’m really entertaining my students. In my opinion, Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals doesn’t lend itself to entertainment; it’s a dense text that needs some serious explication. Now, I don’t speak in a monotone and I try to find relevant examples to help them make sense of the material, but I’m not standing in front of the class hoping that they’ll all have a great time; I’m standing there with the express purpose of teaching them about Kant.

As far as I am aware, we lack strong evidence to suggest a positive relationship between how much students enjoy a class and how much they actually learn. Yet the rise of the “corporate model” in higher education creates strong pressures toward the “edutainment” model.

It isn’t inevitable that the students-as-consumer model should translate into an understanding of “customer satisfaction” as “having a good time,” but it’s pretty hard to avoid that trap, especially when dealing with (1) outcomes that can’t easily be assessed at the end of a semester; (2) evaluations that focus on the personal characteristics of an instructor; (3) cultural ideals of educators as sources of personal inspiration, and (4) the blending of entertainment and educational media.

Throw in techno-evangelism surrounding MOOCS and recorded lectures? The ultimate model for classroom education becomes TED. Now that’s a frightening thought.