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Apr 1, 2010

Nudging and Sasha’s challenge

Subtle economic pressures often have large consequences. For example, the high cost of healthcare is, in part, a result of incentive for doctors to deliver more treatments. Individual doctors may not be aware of succumbing to such pressures, yet the aggregate effect is real. A book called Nudge
is about influences on our choices.

Here is an example from our little corner of the world. Teacher education institutions rely on part-time instructors for a significant part of their instruction. UNC actually relies less than many other schools, and we tend to have long-term, proven adjuncts. The existence of full-time and part-time faculty nudges us to use more part-timers for student teaching supervision, and rely more on full-time faculty for teaching other classes. Why? – it is partly a function of the cost: part-timers cost less, and every semester, we have a large cohort of student teachers. It is partly a matter of qualification: many former teachers and principals make very good supervisors, but teaching classes requires narrower, deeper expertise. It is partly a matter of flexibility: student teaching supervision is easy to break into smaller pieces (we pay $400 for supervising one student teacher), while full-time faculty's workload is normally expressed in 3-credit chunks.

In many ways, the division of labor is quite natural. However, it creates some unintended consequences. Some full-time faculty members have little opportunity to get out to the field, and to check how much their classroom teaching is still connected to the reality of K-12 schools. The strength of a teacher education program critically depends on the level of constant interaction of theory and practice. And although each individual instructor swears to know everything there is to know about real schools, the aggregated and accumulated effect of the disconnect may be larger than one person can notice. See our students in action on a regular basis may just spur more innovation in our own teaching.

As long as we notice and understand the negative nudging, it can be remedied with conscious counter-nudging. Here is my challenge: let's commit every faculty member, full time and part-time, to supervising at least one student teacher every semester. The School can pay a small overload (the same $400) per each student teacher, so the scheme remains cost-neutral. If we agree to this as a matter of policy, no immediate results may be apparent. However, in the long run, we would create a significant factor to keep our programs healthy. I will definitely joint the others, and supervise a one student teacher each semester.

Just to make it clear: the proposal does not save us any money; none at all. It is not a matter of cost saving, but simply a matter of counter-acting a negative nudge. We don't have to be passive in the face of economic pressures.

1 comment:

  1. Your idea is a sound one. Many times as I sit in classrooms with professors who haven't been in a school for some time I wonder whether the professor really thinks all of their ideas could be implemented in a "real" classroom. Live students are much different than theoretical stereotypes of students from years ago.

    Many philosophers have great ideas, but impractical ideas that can't be used are useless.

    I wonder what professors comfortable in their current roles would think of this idea.