Students: consumers of education?

“The customer is always right”.  “Customer satisfaction”.  Those are phrases that get tossed around in pop culture all the time, but do they have any place on a university campus?  I read an interesting article about rewarding good teaching at Texas A&M by having students judge the best teacher and then giving out substantial sums of money – http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/01/13/bonuspay.  Seems like a good idea, and it could go a long way to help improve general teaching but does it have any merit?

It reminds me of something I read a month ago about students as consumers of education.  For many years I considered that approach – the product is the degree, the students are paying for it, it made sense to think that the student is the consumer and to carefully consider their satisfaction.  The good news is that I’ve moved on to something I am more philosophically comfortable with, the bad news is that it sounds bad from a student’s perspective.  My new belief is that the learner is NOT the consumer, the learner is the product.

Following that thought, educators should not be focused making or keeping students happy (although that is important).  Rather, we need to ensure that the goals and objectives of your program get instilled and built within each graduating student.  As an analogy, take a raw piece of aluminum and construct an automobile.  Imagining that the aluminum has feelings etc – it is doubtful that the aluminum enjoys being stretched and reshaped from being a block of raw aluminum into some fantastic useful shape but such reshaping is necessary.

So does this mean I don’t care about students?  Absolutely I do, no question.  Caring about a student’s long term growth and development is exactly why I have such a philosophy.  Do I think that a class or a course should be a painful transition or reshaping?  Yes and no.  I have no doubts that a happy learner is a motivated learner.  Learning should be fun, but it shouldn’t be easy.  If your personal trainer only ensured that you were happy and comfortable, its doubtful you’d ever improve your fitness.  Perhaps education is not any different?

Comments from students are definitely appreciated!

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