Thursday, March 27, 2014

Here's to you, Research Essay Randy!

Dear Randy,

When I gave you your research essay assignment, I offered four, count them, FOUR suggested prompts. That's because I, old, jaded, 40 something prof that I am, have long given up on the idea that you kids can generate your OWN topics. And yet, yes, something still calls to me about inquiry based learning. I love the idea. I recognize its merits. I want to teach students like that. So I spend a whole class discussing ways you could generate your own topic. I did make it very clear, though, Randy, that you needed to clear it with me prior to spending any actual TIME on your own topics prior to getting them cleared with me.

That, my friend, is on account of personal experience with the myriad ways in which you kids FUCK with the topic, and with me.

So when I STOOPIDLY checked my e-mail this afternoon, the last Sunday afternoon of our Spring Break, I was just a tiny bit surprised by your missive in which you told me you had "put together" an entire research essay on the ways that Creon fucked up in Antigone. Oh, you did not word it that way. You worded it just exactly the way I might expect someone on, oh, say Bookrags to have worded a summary of their research essay on the play "Antigone."

Now, for the record, I never suggested you write about that play. My research essay is not exactly the same, but is somewhat similar to the one described in a College Misery rant. You have to look at the way a social issue is discussed in the work you are writing about. So, my dear Randy, examining the ways in which Creon made bad decisions is just not going to fit the bill.

And you noticed that, when you actually looked at the assignment. That's why you e-mailed me today. You asked me why I wanted you to consider such specific points, when I also told you that you could choose your own topic. Never mind that we spent 80 minutes going over the types of things you might be spurred to investigate on your own. No, now you are simply outraged that I would allow you to spend countless hours downloading an essay from....say, Bookrags.com.

OK, dammit. I found your entire essay on Bookrags! You SUCK Randy! I cannot believe you find the tenacity to look at your own reflection in the mirror!

I find myself more and more disillusioned each semester. Where is society headed?

-- Professor Bella


13 comments:

  1. Gah!! Society is going nowhere slowly? I don't know, but I see it in the classmates of my offspring. We need to teach our kids how to do "work," and that not being perfect is okay.

    And I hate it when they miss something you talked about for any length of time. I am always asking my students if they listen to me!!!

    I too love the idea of inquiry based learning and the idea of a flipped classroom. Oh the joy of not going over stuff I know and being able to show them how to apply all that general stuff to their lives. Have discussions and debates. I hear this sort of thing works, but I feel like it would be a disaster! I can't get them to study for a quiz much less study for CLASS!

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  2. First thing that came to mind when reading is that the little 'tinker bought it from somewhere. Then you got it exactly. Let him hand it in! Then give him a zero and report him. Hopefully your chair has your back.

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    1. That's not helping him anyway. Give him a second chance to write an essay again (1 week time) to prove he can write an essay.

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    2. Aleyah, I clicked your profile and see that you work for an entity called "Essay Writer." Is this one of these mythic pay to have your essay written companies? Ah well, I suppose it is a living.

      Anyway, this student was asking me for feedback. I just could never, even though he may have deserved it, just let him hand in an essay that would result in him failing the class when he asked me for my feedback about it ahead of time. I told him I found the whole thing on Bookrags. I actually got a free trial becuase I suspected as much from the "teaser" content, and ended up finding the entire thing. What gets me is that he was completely unashamed. He even sounded annoyed that this meant he had to "choose" a whole new topic. As if he actually spent time choosing this topic!

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  3. See, it's experiences like this that make me believe the only way to stem the tide of incompetence is to fail them and turn them into the plagiarism cops (with requisite institutionally sanctioned consequences). Sadly, too many schools don't allow the former, nor provide a real version of the latter.

    Thus, handbasket meets Hell.

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  4. I'm torn between doing the right thing on papers like this or not giving a shit. Turning in the student means a huge amount of extra, unpaid and unrewarded, work, only to be told to "work with" the student because it's my fault. To the student's small brain, the problem is that what they purchase is a punch on their customer rewards card towards their purchase of middle-class status, and expecting an original paper is unfair. I've had students threaten to sue me, and another had his minister call to attest to his being a good, honest boy (his work had another student's name on it and a timestamp from the previous year). I've had someone's mommy call to complain that I wasn't letting her son graduate. To the school, the whole thing should just go away; let's pretend plagiarism never happens intentionally. I'm close to throwing in the towel on it. This is after sitting through a "webinar" (not a Disney one, thank Dog) on plagiarism where the presenter was so clueless it hurt, gave out bad information, followed up by rah-rah comments about how instructors need to do more. I asked a question about students who know they are plagiarizing (like ones who cheat on a quiz about plagiarism), and, to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, they alllll moved away. Don't care more about their education etc.

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    1. I had a student who I called out on cheating, and told hir s/he should feel free to file a grade complaint if s/he had problem with his grade for the course. S/he said, no, s/he was fine with it. I went on sabbatical, and voila! s/he filed a complaint. Thinking, I assume, that he might be able to talk them into a better grade. Thankfully, hir grade was not changed.

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  5. It's not really that hard to come up with assignments on which it's hard to plagiarize; it takes some thought and effort, but not a huge amount, and I suspect a lot of us do it (though somehow that doesn't put the people who make their livings by teaching others how to teach -- or teaching others how to teach others how to teach -- keep thriving nonetheless). What's getting harder and harder (or at least more and more wearing) is holding the line as students try -- many of them repeatedly -- to talk us into accepting the essay they found online, wrote for high school, etc., etc.

    Bookrags is new to me (though I do think I saw it pop up when I searched for synopsis of a novel I was teaching in excerpt lately). Good to have it on my radar (though I wish I didn't have to). Thanks!

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    1. As long as they wrote it themselves and it fits the requirements, what's wrong with reusing an essay one wrote in high school?

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    2. It's only okay, Claire, if you cite it. If you have been asked to write an original essay for this class, you may not reuse an essay from another class, even if you wrote it. Here is a fairly good explanation of the rule on this: http://writingcenter.waldenu.edu/656.htm.

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    3. Claire: Students aren't in college to write papers. They're here to learn things. They learn things by listening, thinking, speaking, and writing, and we assess what they have learned in *our class* by what they say and write. If they write a paper for another class, they have not learned something in *our* class. Students sometimes say "well, I learned all this before," which tells me that they don't understand how knowledge works. It's not a pile of shit you throw into a bag and take home. It's a bunch of stuff you construct and constantly probe at, to see if it falls down, and when it does, you rebuild it in a new and stronger form. So what's wrong with a paper they wrote for high school? It's not a college paper, that's what's wrong with it, and unless they get permission from the professor, it's also a goddamned lie.

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    4. What everybody else said above (and apologies for one very garbled sentence in my comment above).

      Another answer (which picks up on Chiltepin's point): you keep writing new papers in college, course after course after course, for the same reason that you keep practicing any other skill: to get better. Try telling your coach in any sport that you don't need to do a drill this season because you did it last season (or the season before that). Or try having the same conversation with a music teacher, or a painting teacher, or anybody else who teaches an art or skill. To get better at something, you need to keep doing it, again and again and again. Even Olympic athletes, musicians at the top of their careers, etc., etc. practice regularly. The same goes for academic skills: repetition builds ever-increasing mastery.

      I want you to come into my college class having learned how to write pretty well in high school (but I'll work with you on basic skills if you didn't). That leaves me room to help you take your skills to the next step: more complex ideas, and the sentences to convey them; citation that goes beyond the basics to skillfully interweave your own voice with others' (those with which you agree, those with which you disagree, and those with whom you have a more complex relationship); longer forms which require new approaches to subdivisions and transitions; maybe even writing something much shorter and pithier than you have before (e.g. an abstract that conveys the overall idea of a paper in just a few sentences). There's always something new to learn, a skill to learn or improve, etc., etc., and often you don't even know what you don't know until you try something that's at least a bit above your current skill level. Trying things a bit above your current skill level is what college is (or at least should be) all about.

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    5. These are all such great responses and I'm going to use the sports analogy when a student asks about this next time. I already use it for classes (i.e. you can pay for a gym membership, but if you don't do the work, you don't get fit; same goes for academics. If you pay tuition, but don't do the work, you don't learn anything), but this is a new way to look at it. Thanks, all!

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