Why and how to teach very differently


For several years now, by many successive notes, I have considered the question of what I have decided to name now only “higher education”. This little oratorical precaution is really meaningful, since it forms the basis of the whole of my reasoning set out below. I am not saying “education”, I am not saying “education”, I am not saying “education”, but I say “study”, reserving for myself the task of distinguishing knowledge and skills, Focuses on a very essential idea, namely that, as far as the transmission function is concerned, the question of the university (in the broad sense) is not to teach (for teachers), but to learn , for students.

Historically, professors, preparers, teachers, teacher-researchers, lecturers, etc. Were at the center of the academic system, and the university had a somewhat artisanal and somewhat tinkered way of ensuring a group of missions, sometimes very disparate, where the study of “confirmed” researchers Was essential. There was a way of paying some “professors” who could do their research, while perpetuating the knowledge produced.

For the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) the university is

“An association of men … endowed and privileged by the State, so that the people can receive intellectual formation and that the theoretical problems which arise during the development of civilization can be solved”.

The considerable increase in the number of students in recent decades has led to dead ends and, above all, to the now clear need to renovate the university system as a whole.

Let us begin by observing that, in spite of some modes (“reverse pedagogy”, etc.), teachers have for many wanted to “teach”: what had become the name of their profession defined their mission, and these people Consciousness, donned the clothes that had been stretched out to them.

It is understandable that individuals who are at the forefront of research have been selected for the faculty. This is the guarantee that the knowledge provided will not be out of date, that it will be constantly renovated. However, the question is not to put a scientist in an amphitheater in front of groups of students more or less numerous, more or less attentive. This is the means, but only the objective: that students study, that they learn, that they obtain knowledge and skills … perennial and useful.

Knowledge or skills

With many other tickets, I showed what everyone knows, that the notions learned in the first year of license are often forgotten in the third year for the majority of students. (The proof is that I have it with the majority of the students who come to the seminary and who, confidently, admit it, and often it is not the years that are the point of forgetting but The particular partial where these acquisitions are tested.) What good is it to have learned, then? It is also known that too often students – and perhaps ourselves – are limited to knowledge rather than skills. What’s the point ? We know that our amphitheatres contain a proportion of students who also come – or do not come from elsewhere – to socialize.

Why not, but I have an idea of ​​the university that is better than what it supports today, due to the massification of higher education. And I believe that part of the ills of the university stems from the fact that students are not at the center of the system because they want to “teach” and in so doing give too much weight to ” Teachers “.

I maintain absolutely that the issue is not teaching teachers, but learning for students, and I absolutely disagree with the terminology of “teacher-researcher”, therefore, recalling that the participles present are Most often linguistic inegances: teacher, learner, knowing, actant, doing …

I propose very forcefully to return to the term “professor,” which, etymologically, means “who speaks before”. Who speaks to say what? This is the right question, to which I propose to reply by the aphorism of our good Jean de la Fontaine: “In all things we must consider the end”. And for students, the end, these are skills that will give them a job, these skills that will make them “capable” good people, good citizens, concerned about the collective good, national, international, because they will be good Professional, responsible.

However, it is less a question of criticism than of making an observation. For example, students have to confide their future to the university, to professors, which I think is a great carelessness, given the way we respond to their requests; It is also a laziness on their part, because they would rather take their destiny in their own hands, instead of resting only on the university.

The solution ? We must put students in a position of responsibility, and put an end to the class-like game of opposing good students and bastards of professors, lazy students and virtuous teachers, depending on where we are in find.

Students must learn, teachers teach

Students must therefore learn. What then becomes of the role of the teacher, if not more of teaching? I propose to distinguish, in classical professorial speech, values, notions and concepts, methods, information, and anecdotes. Can we imagine that all these categories are learned and not transmitted orally? Why not…

However, professors are certainly those who, in dialogue with students, are able to clearly identify the knowledge and skills needed for specific professional projects, in order to guide students towards the learning of this specific, personal knowledge and skills; There is a form of tutoring, which Pierre-Gilles de Gennes had clearly identified when he renovated his studies at the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie de Paris. Certainly, too, teachers can have the mission to make their eyes shine, so that the studies that are then carried out independently are fun, not punishments.

It seems useful that they remain present, available to answer questions that the students arise during the learning that the latter do in autonomy. Because the professors have a mission of scientific research, they are guarantor of the modernity of the studies that are made. They are certainly those who have to orchestrate the transformation of knowledge into skills. And they are of course the guarantors of the award of diplomas that recognize these skills.

But, I repeat, the question of higher education is not teaching, but learning, learning. Students must be at the center of the university system in an absolute way. They must be placed in a position of perfect responsibility. We must help them become autumn, not keep them under our control, because we would have a pitiful taste for power, a lamentable claim to knowledge … We must therefore revise all the methods of study in order to stop doing Seeming to ensure our missions.

 Collective Reflection
Here, it would be wrong to think that I criticize my colleagues because I am one of them myself. And it is therefore rather a collective reflection that I call for my wishes. We have sufficiently pretended that teaching was an art, the results of which could not be evaluated. The experiments in teaching of the first level on the teaching of reading have greatly increased the failure of un- evaluated theories. We have to quantitatively evaluate the outcomes of our higher education systems, although this is difficult because the material is human.

Of course, we can continue to favor the recruitment of talented researchers whose “teaching” is both secondary and mediocre and the research excellent, but we can not then claim to properly ensure the mission of supervision of students, and we would put ourselves in a fragile position by pursuing the old practices.

Our students would be able to reproach us for our intellectual laziness, our lack of imagination, our slowness to reform ourselves, to take advantage of digital technology to make the best of it. I know that MOOC is developing, for example, but it is a detail. It is the set of higher studies that I propose to discuss as openly as possible and on the basis of this postulate that the question is not for teachers to teach but for students to learn.

Obviously, it is necessary to discuss this postulate first.

Author Bio: Hervé This, vo Kientza is Physicochemist Inra, Director of the International Center for Molecular Gastronomy AgroParisTech-Inra  at the Agro Paris Tech – Paris-Saclay University