The long tail of teaching

6 Nov

I’ve had a number of interactions with former students in recent weeks. These have mostly been positive – and have included lots of praise and thanks for the content of my classes several years ago. (This is one of the main rewards of the job, so I’ll enjoy it while I can).

This delayed gratification contrasts with the monitored and measured world of ‘student satisfaction’ we operate in. We can judge our satisfaction with a purchase or with a meal or film – but how is a student to assess their satisfaction with their teaching? If my only goal was student satisfaction I’d set easy, explicit assignments and give high grades – a guaranteed route to high student satisfaction scores.

Yet education is not a shopping transaction, it’s a long-term investment. Satisfaction has to be assessed at different stages as its rewards are not always immediate. Graduates rarely make use of the lessons we teach them in the early years of a PR career, but those lessons become more valuable as people climb the career ladder.

The distinction between immediate satisfaction and long-term returns is very similar to the discussions we have in public relations about measuring outcomes, not outputs.

Nor are long term outcomes from education only to be assessed through earning power (though this may be a useful measure). It’s too easy to overlook the lessons to be learnt from failure (‘fail fast and fail often’). One of the former students who expressed satisfaction with her long-ago classes never even completed her degree course. She’s now working in a digital communications role. Is she a success or a failure? It depends on the measures you choose to apply.

2 Responses to “The long tail of teaching”

  1. mediationschbg 06/11/2013 at 7:25 pm #

    When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

  2. Heather Yaxley 10/11/2013 at 1:25 pm #

    This post got me thinking and I headed off to the dictionary to think about the concept of satisfaction and why it is often not a very satisfying measure. My short journey among definitions took me from satisfaction to gratify to indulge, which is defined as “To yield to the desires and whims of”. And that’s the problem with too many ‘satisfaction surveys’ which end up assessing what is salient/top of mind at the time.

    Anyone who has seen the Century of the Self programme by Adam Curtis, will remember the first episode which featured Eddie Bernays and was called ‘Happiness Machines’ (this can be found via Vimeo or YouTube).

    As students (or wider as human beings), should we have our desires and whims satisfied, should the focus be on keeping us happy?

    The final step in my dictionary search was to the word: satiated. So if we keep on receiving what makes us satisfied, we reach this point of being filled “beyond capacity or desire, often arousing weariness”.

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