Monday, September 1, 2014

Worse than Syllabus Week

A student emailed me Sunday afternoon.  This is the entire message.


We've been in class for two weeks.  Two fucking weeks.  We have our first exam this week and there's been two homework assignments and two lab sessions completed by students who either give a shit or just pretend to do so.

I responded politely that all course material is posted on the LMS.  Good luck, dIPSHIT.

--  Bob from Bennington


  1. When I started my teaching job just over 25 years ago (oh my--how time flies!), I used to give private catch-up sessions to students like Arnold. I thought at that time that a dedicated instructor did that sort of thing. Besides, I was on probation for my first 2 years there, so I wanted to score some brownie points.

    Eventually, I got wise and realized that my students were supposed to be adults and had to take responsibility for their education. Unfortunately, that got me into a lot of trouble with the department administrators. I wasn't meeting their "needs and expectations".

    1. I did this too, having been trained by faculty mentors with similar cockamamie ideas about education. One problem with spoon-feeding is that it just plain does not work: never once did I have a student whose poor performance due to lack of responsibility was affected in any noticeable way.

    2. At the tech school I taught at, spoon-feeding the kiddies was pretty much a requirement. I, too, had senior colleagues who mollycoddled them because they believed that real education worked that way. Then there were those who believed that expecting students to think and take responsibility for learning what was taught was considered "elitist".

      Then again, what should I have expected from an institution whose only academic requirements were the ability to fog a mirror by breathing on it and, of course, $$$$.

  2. Can you IMAGINE this FOOL doing a JOB involving real RESPONSIBILITY? Say, an air-traffic controller, or a brain surgeon, or a nuclear-plant engineer?!?!? Jeez Louise, he can't even be bothered to use his Caps Lock key properly!

  3. Frod said, "One problem with spoon-feeding is that it just plain does not work: never once did I have a student whose poor performance due to lack of responsibility was affected in any noticeable way."

    Hear, hear. One of the more robust findings in psychology is the "Big Five" personality domains ( To oversimplify, there are five major aspects of personality: extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and agreeableness. These are lifelong traits, remarkably stable; conscientiousness in little kids correlates with success later in life.

    When we try to increase Student Success (buzzword slogan, or BS for short) by getting them On Course (BS) to take responsibility for their own actions, we are trying to increase their conscientiousness. We have such initiatives at nearby colleges. I've tried asking for evidence that the programs work. That question is seen as irrelevant and lacking in Positive Team Spirit (BS).

    1. This year my school started a "responsibility class." It's being called an Academic Success class, and is in addition to the Freshman Experience and is one all students on academic probation or with low GPAs are required to now take along with a class on Study Skills. The syllabus lists things like: How to Plan a Schedule; How to Negotiate with a Professor; How to Deal with a Roommate; How to be a Responsible Adult; How to Converse One-on-One; How to Navigate the Area. These are BASIC skills type things that we are now offering for college credit. I wonder if such a class will even make a difference, given the five domains.

    2. I'm enough of a bleeding heart to be uncomfortable with an "either you've got this innate trait or you don't" approach (sounds too much like the IQ-based arguments of yore).

      But I'm entirely on board with the idea that students need to strengthen certain traits/behaviors that are either innately harder for them, or with which they haven't gotten much practice, before they arrive on our doorstep -- you know, just like the military expects recruits to reach a certain fitness level before they sign up/show up for basic training.

      All that said, Bev of Excelsior recently wrote about Goucher's plan to allow student videos in lieu of more traditional application materials . After reading her post and this thread, I'm thinking maybe they should accept videos, but only of a very certain kind: the marshmallow test, conducted at age five, under controlled/verified circumstances.

      That would raise all kinds of problems, too, I'm sure, but, if we're going to measure something, I'd prefer self-control/delayed gratification over "authenticity."

    3. TCC:

      The institution I used to teach at conducted similar classes, calling them "How To Study" or "How To Succeed" or some such thing. As I understand, they consisted of such valuable information such as "pay attention in lectures", "take notes", and "ask questions".

      I shook my head in amazement. Students at a post-secondary institution had to be taught something that I knew since my early days in elementary school.

      However, those classes weren't mandatory. I'm sure I had many students in my courses that didn't attend them, even though they were sorely in need of knowing what to do. That might explain why I was often called into my last department head's office because someone came to him, saying, "Waaaaaah! Dr.Vertical makes me work for my marks! Waaaaaaaah!", when all I expected them to do was to do their work like the responsible adults they were expected to be.

    4. @ CC and CC: I'm all for teaching basic skills to first-generation college students (like how to take notes) or international students (like that it's important and accepted to ask the professor questions). One of the great things about U.S. higher education is its availability to all (at least in principle).

      As for the marshmallow test as a college admission requirement? YES! (I love that video. That's one of the studies I was referring to about the lifelong nature of these domains.)

  4. I've gotten three of these from the same section of 29 students. I want to send this in response to each:

  5. Today one of my students asked if I could please make the written instructions for our (partly-online) class a bit less detailed.

    Several weeks before class began, I sent out a welcome/warning email about the class. What did paragraph 3 say (more or less)? "You'll notice that this email is fairly long and detailed; that's characteristic of communications in the class. If you don't think this form of communication will work well for you, consider signing up for a section where more of the communication takes place face to face." I guess ze didn't read that far.

    1. That might be the same one who, more than 20 years ago, said in a student evaluation that I was being too complicated in my lectures. Never mind that I was close to presenting the material as if it was written in a colouring book.

  6. In the words of Brother Al:

    I read your e-mail
    It's quite apparent
    Your grammar's errant
    You're incoherent

    I hate these Word Crimes