Teaching and Learning 5/17/22

Education with Richard Bleil

Currently, I am taking a class online training for a real estate license.  The two people running the class are agents with a lot of experience in the subject, but clearly are not educators.  I am blessed to have listened to hours of academia bashing on multiple occasions as they explain how they are so much smarter than actual educators and how they are so much better at teaching and are better at getting people to pass exams.

Not that they are entirely wrong.  They are not teaching what knowledge is needed to sell real estate, such a laws and regulations, but rather, they’re teaching to pass the multiple guess exam.  In their rambling, they gave, for example, hints on how to choose answers even if you don’t know the material in multiple guess exams.  The reality is that when people write multiple guess exams, there are some common errors that everybody, including educators, do make.  For example, in these exams, everybody knows that if you don’t know the answer, the first thing you do is eliminate the wrong ones, but how many people know that the correct answer is usually the longest choice?  Nobody really likes writing these exams.  They’re easy to grade, but you are front-loading your work because writing them takes time.  So, when writing “wrong choices”, they often write glib, short choices just to save time. 

In multiple guess questions involving math, all too often those who write exams just put nonsensical choices for the wrong answers.  In the example given, every wrong choice in the test he was challenged with had three answers ending in 0 (such as, 5,000, 4,200, 25,600) and one choice that didn’t (19,536).  What he proved is that he is observant because the choice was obvious.  When I wrote these questions, the “wrong” answers were the calculated answers when making common mistakes. 

There is a distinct difference between teaching to an exam, and teaching to understand.  If you understand the material, you can extrapolate.  Richard Feynman once wrote of his experiences during a visit to China and described the time he had to speak with a student while in an elevator.  His observation was that this student couldn’t be stopped if a question was formulated as it would be on a standardized exam, that is to say, an exam that is designed to test that the material had been covered.  However, when asked to extrapolate the information, that is when asked to apply it to a situation that was unusual, he couldn’t do it.  On my exams, I always included an essay question taken from current events, and asked students to discuss it in terms of the topics from class materials.  For example, after covering the scientific method, I might ask a student to write on the topic of holistic medicine.  It didn’t matter to me what their stand was, just if they could apply what they had learned in class.

The truth is, and I would always discuss this on my very first day of class, nobody can teach.  Not really.  It’s a fantasy to say that I am a good teacher, or that I will be able to teach them anything.  I can’t, because the choice isn’t mine.  The students, themselves, have to decide if they want to learn.  As the professor, the best I can be is the guide, there to show the way through the material.  The student is the one who has to do the work, though.  It’s the student who has to decide to pay attention instead of texting friends.  It’s the student who has to decide to spend the time doing the homework instead of going out.  It’s the student who has to be open to the concept of learning, open to asking questions, open to realizing that they do not know everything.  I can’t do that for them. 

At one point, I passed the exam to sell insurance.  The job didn’t work out, but I did pass all of the exams on the first attempt.  Most of us have taken and passed a driver’s license exam.  I’m guessing that most of these professional certification exams are basically designed to test if you’ve studied the material but being able to pass the exams does not equate to being good at what the exams purportedly test.  If you really want to be good at the profession, if you really want to learn the subject, if you want to learn, be open to learning.  Find somebody who is great at what it is you want to do, and who is willing to teach you.  Then you will truly learn.

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