ES 331/767 Educational Philosophy

Make others understand.
It is more excellent than making them remember,
for intelligence is much greater than memory.
(Gracián 1992 translation)

Teaching and learning

The art of teaching is to organize information, theories, and knowledge on a subject into a framework, from which students may learn. Teaching is not simply spoon-feeding a mass of facts--covering the subject, which students digest for later recall on examinations. Learning is the art of understanding basic terminology, principles, and methods of a subject within an appropriate cultural context. Rote memorization of names, places, dates, and formulas is not learning. Information overload would soon result from the latter approach, given the explosive increase of scientific knowledge. Learning the ability to find data, sort useful information, organize thoughts, and identify critical issues are far more important than merely knowing facts, which of course are subject to change as new discoveries are made and new theoretical concepts come forth.

Science is a human invention—a human attempt to understand the universe based on observation and logical interpretation. As a human pursuit, science is subject to constant modification and evolution. On this basis, learning must be an interactive and life-long endeavor for both teachers and students. The knowledge and methods of the 1970s are obsolete today, and likewise current thinking will go out of date within a few years or decades. The most important product of a college education should be recognition of change as a fundamental aspect of life in the emerging Age of Communication. Knowing how to learn or relearn will be critical for individuals, nations, and the global community in the coming millenium.

Importance of college education

At the student level, knowledge and skills learned in college should first and foremost enrich the student's perception of the world. These skills also have potential value for professional careers. According to ESU alumni, three aspects are most important:

These basic areas of college education were emphasized by Eric Vander Velde, earth science major, class of 1981. He gave this assessment after a decade of work as an environmental consultant in California. It has become clear that academic performance in college is not always a good indicator for career success. Good interpersonal relationships and flexibility are just as important as is sound scientific work.

The age of global communications is underway with the World Wide Web and other Internet services. Visiting the Danish Royal Library is now just as easy as a trip to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Business, entertainment, education, publication, art, science, leisure, and all other manifestations of culture will change fundamentally during this human generation. These changes will be pervasive and profound, at least as great as those brought about by the industrial revolution. Education must and will respond to these rapid developments, as our concepts of culture and environment evolve. This course is designed to take full advantage of emerging Internet technologies. Students today stand at the threshold of global information and communications.

Student expectations

Students should expect to play an active role in their progress for this course. Self-motivation and self-discipline are necessary. The traditional lecture/textbook mode of instruction is largely passive and one way—teacher to student. The format for this course will require much more student involvement in the learning process. Students are encouraged to explore the subject without strict limitations from the instructor. Students are expected to discover information via World Wide Web. Within the subject framework—the ice ages, all manner of physical and cultural phenomena are relevant.

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ES 331/767 © J.S. Aber (2013).

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