How’s flawed pedagogy, where teaching methods and philosophies center seemingly irrelevant content in a way where the majority of class disengages… relate to the Great Leap Forward of the People’s Republic of China led by the Chinese Communist Party from 1958 to 1962? Let’s preview how unachievable expectations matter…
Weeks ago a faculty member who has been advising me in my literature review on learning skills required to succeed in STEM shared: in the College of Engineering, over 80% of students were shortcutting their own learning by ‘cheating’ in some way. Stunned when I heard this percentage, while also empathizing with all who suffer from this reality: students and their families, to educators and our local communities ALL angst when academic integrity is infringed upon.
I recognize the importance to protect the integrity of the subject matter, curriculum, the students, educators, and school. This village is trying their best to prepare the minds of the next generation to develop a career and contribute to society, but how will they be able to do so, if they are bound by the realities of flawed pedagogy, which is one avenue that leads to academic dishonesty? There are prudent questions and problems that arise when students are copying and pasting answers they found online or through a friend to obtain a grade. Frankly, I believe no human benefits in this situation of dishonesty which creates a psychologically unsafe space that leads to no trust therefore no learning. Amy Edmondson writes and presents (podcast/video) on the idea of psychology safety extensively.
Are we asking the right questions as to what’s leading to these outcomes?
When students have unhealthy learning habits… coupled with little to no belief in what they are learning to be learnable or meaningful… compounded with the need to put out immediate fires (AKA arbitrary deadlines on a syllabus)… I am not surprised that 80% percent of students in the College of Engineering struggle with staying true to the learning objectives their professors with good faith and integrity set for them. Truthfully, the ones who suffer the most here are the students and their families.
When Chairman Mao Zedong launched the Great Leap Forward to reconstruct the country, he decreed to increase grain yields 🌾 and steel production 🏗️ while turning the countryside to a systematized industrial production machine. Local officials in the countryside were fearful of Mao’s wrath and judgement from his unachievable claims such as collecting surpluses of grain (which did not exist) to repay Russia, all while millions of people in his own country were starving to death. County officials nationwide, over 80% of them, did not dare to report the economic disaster caused by these policies, while officials, blaming bad weather for the decline in output of supplies, took little or no action.
I listened to 7 hours of various podcasts on The Great Leap Forward and below I share an episode I’ve listened to on repeat for 5 times over the past week. Learning Note: Podcasts are similar to lecture in this sense, where even if you’re super engaged and finding the information relevant, until you can slow down the processing of the information, you probably will not be able to make use of it in a meaningful way… It wasn’t until I sat down and started writing the keys from the episode, then comparing it with readings, could I be able to hold on to what the podcast was highlighting.
From The China History Podcast by Laszlo Montgomery who’s been publishing for 10 consistent years on China’s antiquity to modern times states at around 13 min 20 seconds:
“The whole system was an utter shambolic to the maximum; from the top down, and back all the way to the top. Mao would show up to the cities on his train, where the whole visitation would be staged. From the communal dining halls, overflown from the food to the crops, that were moved and replanted closer to the train station so when he came into town he could see with his own eyes how abundant the whole harvest would be. And when these local officials would get their moment with Mao, they just pulled out their shoeshine box and spilled their guts to the chairman about how great their policies were and how fabulous everything was… How there would be no problem to meet or exceed targets handed down from the party center. Each stop at each commune, Mao not only saw how well things were going with agriculture, he was also about to see how the steel production was thriving. But in reality the majority of the people at these steel factories had no idea what in the world they were doing. Those around Mao knew the truth, not a single one dared to speak up. Top down from Beijing, down to the provinces, to the individual communes, no one dared to speak the truth about travesty that was occurring.”
People would mix trash into the bags of grains they were supposedly needing to produce to meet Mao’s expectations.
The Great Leap resulted in ~50 million deaths, making the Great Chinese Famine the largest in human history.
Who are the ones who suffer the most here?
I hope we can all remember this historical moment when we experience lying, hiding and faking, because there’s critical value in thoroughly understanding what is leading to these outcomes, what’s honestly achievable, what type of support & leadership people need.
At The Learning Code we work to make learning meaningful, achievable, and purposeful, so that you are less likely to be in a position to feel like you have to compromise your own integrity and short circuit your own learning. We believe deep down to the bottom of our hearts, if we do our job well, you will not only be able to stay afloat in the demands of a course, but learn more than ever imagined possible in school related work! We work so you have tested & proven practices to adopt, so that you will not have to lie, hide, or fake your own learning, but instead be eager to learn and engage with the challenging, abstract, theoretical content.
While colleges around the nation are graduating enough students to keep the equilibrium, are we really creating the leaders that we need to solve the problems we see in our societies? (check out a letter a CS professor wrote in 1988 on this matter…comment-able google doc) Or are we merely trying to blindly increase our “industrial output” like Mao, when millions of his own citizens died right in front of his eyes, and the eyes of who survived (AKA graduated in our academy).
I am fortunate to have been introduced to a comprehensive definition of learning by my community here at The Learning Code. With this working definition I can then focus my efforts and time on my learning, while suppressing the urge to infringe on my integrity to pass a course.
I’d like to share with you a practice I’m using to track my cognitive deep work time. Let’s define intellectual deep work as reading/writing/thinking that we know needs to get done, and doing so without distractions. I really suck at this type of deep work, unlike being present in conversation, because I am too easily distracted and have so many less cognitively demanding desserts to choose from all the time…
However, this practice helps me address the multiple tiers on the hierarchy of learning needs Jeff Anderson presents in this talk to community college educators here starting at 4 minutes.
When Spring starts I will begin a new sub-sheet within this sheet and I will also look into how to represent the dates, times, and duration to visually see my deep work.
I have 6 active projects that I need to work on over this winter break, and to make progress on each of them weekly, requires that I am cognizant and deliberate of what I’m working on.
Thomas Kuhn argued that scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a “series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions,” and in those revolutions “one conceptual world view is replaced by another”
For students: Let’s replace our views and messages of: “I can’t learn this, I can’t learn that” which exist in our head with these new perspectives such as defining learning as change in each tier on the hierarchy. I trust that if we may build and continue this habit of tracking our deep work, we will be able to address multiple tiers of the Learning Needs Hierarchy while not losing any of our horizons of focus on our path to becoming ‘scientists’!
For professors: If you’ve ever had to deal with academic integrity issues with your students, I recommend you to lead with empathy and see if you can find the root cause of the problem. You may also forward them to our blog posts on Belief, Writing Goals and Scheduling, as we see these to be some skills to reduce the likelihood of lying hiding and faking. If you’re super courageous please see if this video by Jeff on lecture note systems, you’re welcome to play at 2x playback speed, is worth sharing with your students.
Because the plural of anecdote is not data, the plural of data is not science, the plural of science is not truth -> lets reflect together on how we may help each other.
- how does academic integrity relate to the Great Leap Forward?
- when have you addressed lying hiding or faking?
- how might you track your deep work hours to meet your learning needs hierarchy?
- I welcome any questions/comments, areas of improvement, what you’d like me to research on next, or what you’d like to see change in my work – because an important goal for this writing is for it to be valuable to you.
please submit your response in the comments below – to allow for multi-generational communication across multiple disciplines! I trust your response will influence the past, present, and future viewers of this piece; and what’s neat about this is: it’s not just a book sitting on the shelf – those are more well written than this – but here you may engage in fruitful discussion!