John Michela’s Response to Gwyn Morgan — Mark Morton

In response to Gwyn Morgan’s Globe and Mail editorial (in which he decries the quality of university teaching), John Michela (of UW’s Department of Psychology) submitted a countering letter to the editor. The Globe and Mail published that letter on October 5, but in an edited form. Here, for the record, is Professor Michela’s unedited letter:

Gwyn Morgan claimed that “If universities were in business, they’d be out of business.” Frankly if Mr. Morgan had operated his own businesses with as little understanding of mission, context, and operation, he wouldn’t have stayed in business so long and successfully. Ironically, his column coincided with a report of dismal innovation performance in Canadian firms. Where does he think radical innovation originates? R&D departments draw on ever-changing knowledge that originates mainly in universities. Therefore the selection of faculty members based on their generation of knowledge (reported in those dreaded “published papers”) serves society quite directly when usable in R&D. Other knowledge, as from humanities and social sciences, can aid in addressing the myriad ethical and social issues that arise from, for example, technological changes such as prevalence of texting, sexting, on-line bullying, and so forth. As for the claim that nothing has changed since 1991, Mr. Morgan obviously did not spend his time since then in a Canadian university. At mine, both the culture for teaching quality and corresponding supporting resources have expanded considerably, and I expect this is true elsewhere. We now have a sizable staff that is dedicated (in both senses) to teaching development and support. This support was critical in enabling me to design and implement a “blended learning” course, which combines online “podcast” lectures with “active learning” activities when class members get together on a weekly basis (much as Mr. Morgan advocated, actually). The course is described (in a non-fancy way, befitting the university ethos) here. Support staff and early-adopting professors (like me) are learning from these experiences and seeking to disseminate these methods.  Just a few years ago, the technology and educational practice knowledge needed for novel approaches were not up to their current level, and further developments will make it more practical and otherwise desirable for other professors to adopt new methods where warranted.

John Michela, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychology
and Management Sciences (cross-appointed)
University of Waterloo, Ontario


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

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