Thursday, January 05, 2006

Students don't read...

This story confirms what all academics already knew. It's particularly difficult in the humanities, and acute in my area, English Literature. I recently marked a series of essays on Jane Eyre by first year undergraduates. Hardly any of them bothered to consult any of the numerous secondary critical materials they could have accessed, relying instead on no secondary reading at all, or web sources ranging from the relatively advanced Spark Notes to the thoroughly disreputable essay mills. A couple were obviously plagiarised.
Students constantly complain about not having the time to read, and yet they have signed up as full timers - pursuing their studies should be their primary occupation. Too often, though, it isn't. One student I spoke to recently said she was having difficulty completing work because of her outside job commitment. This turned out to be a 35 hour a week post on a telephone help desk. She seemed genuinely surprised when I said that I didn't think she could do that and a full time degree. She's not alone, and the consequences of this now well-established culture of semi-detached study is that students are increasingly unlikely to show any genuine intellectual curiosity. That in turn leads to the kind of instrumental view of education as a simple transference of knowledge from tutor to student, preferably bypassing the student's brain.
I don't know the answer to this conundrum. The increasingly consumerist view of education espoused not just by students but by government, actively discourages the kind of adventurous thinking that higher education is supposed to be about.

8 comments:

kat said...

I don't think the government want adventurous thinkers. They want a boring, certificate holding, workforce.

Nogbad said...

I couldn't agree moe Rob - and sadly this will increase. The government aspiration to increase participation in HE is wonderful but how does that marry up with top up fees? If we can attract students from deprived areas, Tony's number one aspiration, how are they expected to fund their studies? None of this looks joined up and none of it looks likely to be changed any time soon.

kat said...

I think you can only fight it by continuing to explain to people why their studies are more important. With a bit of look they may be prepared to reduce their standard of living for a while and I think some of them could do this. Increased participation and an increase in the number of awards or certificates does not mean that things have improved. Below HE and in some subject areas (particularly mine )there are many courses where it is possible to pass them without much involvement. It is much harder for people to change if or when they reach HE.
Take the ECDL for example. It is possible to pass this without ever producing a single piece of work or document of your own. It is not a requirement of the tests yet the qualification is considered to be of a good standard. There is no creativity involved and people can go away with little understanding. They do not necessarily know which application is most appropriate in a given circumstance or why they would even want to use some of them. How is that of any use to the person?

(IT is not a purely psychomotor activity and I will surely throttle the next person who tries to tell me that it is.)

kat said...

Ignore some of the spelling in that piece Rob. How I managed to put 'look' instead of 'luck' I will never know. I tried to change it but made a bigger mess. :-)

Rob Spence said...

Yes, it will take "look" I think. I have people who spend £50 a month on the ir mobile phone bill telling me that a £6 book is too much to pay out for, and that's why they haven't read it.
I think there is a real problem about the concept of study. We live in such an instant gratification culture that the idea of something being the result of hard toil is alien to a lot of young folk.

Nogbad said...

We live in such an instant gratification culture that the idea of something being the result of hard toil is alien to a lot of young folk.

Not just young folk I'd suggest. We're into the second and third generations of people who have managed to survive on benefits because there are no suitable jobs after the death of the UK manufacturing/heavy industry/mining sectors. The very people being targetted for wider participation are the people least likely to engage with HE. Culturally a mobile phone has far more value than a book, whateevr the contents of the book - it's the society we've built I'm afraid.

Rob Spence said...

"...it's the society we've built I'm afraid"...
Speak for yourself, mate!
I think you are probably right Nigel. People seem almost surgically attached to their mobiles now, and the new services planned for mobiles will make it even more so.
I suppose my initial point could be addressed if more students did degrees part time, and if the funding system supported that. But it's that impatience with anything that takes time again- I can't see many of my students buying into a six year part time degree programme.

Nogbad said...

But it's that impatience with anything that takes time again- I can't see many of my students buying into a six year part time degree programme.

And, at least in part, this is aso being fostered by the current advertising. In the minds of many a degree = a well paid job (Ho bloody ho!). So why wait six years for the big bucks when hanging round a university or FE college for three years is on offer?