South Park Self

an academic observation

Marking this latest batch of third-year essays on vampires and eroticism has vouchsafed me something of a revelation. Well, several revelations. Not that most of them are revelations, as two decades of university teaching without realising certain eternal verities would constitute a particularly slow-on-the-uptake response even for me. But I was struck anew by two things:

  • The fact that students don't read. Primarily they don't read the bloody question, which is a recurring whinge of mine, and which means that a lot of their otherwise interesting analyses and insights are simply irrelevant to the task at hand. This batch was particularly bad: I marked the first four, and then went back to check the class handouts and online stuff in the sudden sinking fear that the question I'd set them wasn't actually the question I thought it was. But it was. They just didn't read it. They have no excuse at all, I spent ten minutes in two different lectures patiently explaining how important topic-focus is in my personal marking scheme. I don't know if they don't care, or simply don't have the tools, but either is terrifying in a third-year student.

  • A new, striking revelation: what most of them actually lack is passion. The best essay in this batch was from a lovely child who is a fervent and dedicated fan of manga. She found an excellent set of selections from her favourite manga, and proceed to dissect them ruthlessly, in strict keeping with the demands of the topic, and with a highly sensitive and insightful awareness of genre and cultural contexts and their expressions in the text's rather complicated layering. It was a delight to read. What she has is identical to the fascinated passion I have for fairy tale, or science fiction, or pervy genre-fondling in general. It's the basis for all really good academic insight. I wish the rest of the class could summon a fraction of it. I also wish I knew what their actual passions are for, they're bright kids and I'd love to read what they're capable of when actually engaged.

I don't get to teach the vampire stuff next year, it'll be all internet sexuality, as really we don't have space to do justice to both halves. I'm going to miss it. Although I'm not going to miss having to mark mangled effusions about Twilight.
  • Current Mood: drained Sid is rampaging, sigh
  • Current Music: Joni Mitchell
You can expand the first point, from "students don't read", to "people don't pay attention". Although, if university marks were riding on it, you bet I would read very carefully.
To the first: Gahhh!
To the second: yes, sounds spot on.

Sort of on-topic:
http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3340/2985
Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe.

Abstract:
While the Internet is a text–saturated world, reading online screens tends to be significantly different from reading printed text. This review essay examines literature from a variety of disciplines on the technological, social, behavioural, and neuroscientific impacts that the Internet is having on the practice of reading. A particular focus is given to the reading behaviour of emerging university students, especially within Canada and the United States. A brief overview is provided of the recent transformation of academic libraries into providers of online digital text in addition to printed books and other materials, before looking at research on college students’ preferences for print and digital text, and the cognitive neuroscience of reading on screen
I work in grant management...there are selection criteria...you get money if you get them right...but alas alack none of them read the guidelines; none of them follow the instructions and few of them address the selection criteria. Fine for individuals applying for a few thousand $...but when it is an organisation applying for $200,000 I despair!

That being said I am doing a Masters in Project Management by correspondence...and my essay topics have been universally garbled. It’s hard if you are the sort of person who has learnt after 8 years in tertiary education to analyse the question first! My worst was a 2000 word essay in which the lecturer attempted to spoon feed the students so much the task became impossible. Instead of three sections asking for analysis which would have got far more interesting and meaty discussion, he set three sections and a total of 20 questions all were discuss-types. Which is ridiculous, what can be discussed in a 100 words you can’t even present both sides of the argument never mind formulate an opinion in 100 words –it was less an essay and more a series of text messages!