The Gap Between University and the Workplace

Examples from Graphing in Science

The orthodox view in the teaching of science and mathematics at the university level is that during lecture courses, knowledge and information are transmitted (as if “piped”) from the heads' of the professors to those of the students. The latter then (fail to) apply what they supposedly “learned” during the lectures to world problems or “real-world contexts.” Even those who adopt a constructivist stance to learning appear to assume that students transfer to the workplaces that they enter after graduation whatever they have learned in their university lectures. The reality shows that this is not the case. My experience and research shows that university science and mathematics professors complain that their undergraduate students come with little knowledge; those who employ university graduates, in turn, also deplore the substantial lack of graduates' mathematical and scientific knowledge required on the job. This can be interpreted in at least two ways. First, we may infer that both high school and university students have cognitive deficits so that they either or both (a) do not learn and (b) do not transfer what they have learned to a new setting. Second, we may infer that very little relevant knowledge has actually been transferred from textbooks and teachers' or professors' minds to the students. In any case, there appear to be knowledge gaps fittrst between high school and university, then between university and workplace. Being successful in the former institution does not guarantee success — at least initially — in the latter. How then should university science and mathematics educators approach this problem? What good does it do to teach if little of what has been taught is of actual use in the places that the university intends to prepare students for?

In this chapter, I track the problem of the knowledge gap between university and workplace. I begin by describing and exemplifying the results of nearly a decade of research involving both think-aloud protocols among science students and professional scientists and long-term ethnographic studies among scientists and technicians. My paradigm case comes from graphing, that is, a “skill” or practice that lies at the very heart of and defines the nature of science (Roth, 2003). I briefly articulate the problem in terms of a theoretical framework that is centrally concerned with what people dorather than with what they might carry around in their brain case. This theoretical approach not only explains the gap but also allows us to articulate constraints on the redesign of university education intended to do a better job in preparing science and mathematics students for their future workplaces


Science Teacher Fish Culturist Fish Hatchery Maximum Sustainable Yield Birth Rate Curve 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Applied Cognitive ScienceUniversity of VictoriaCanada

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