Student Laziness or Teacher Ineffectiveness?

I thought Kairosnews readers may be interested in reading these responses to a recent writing assignment concerning student apathy. We all know the story--students show up less and less, make lower grades, expect an easy A, and it's up to us whether to lower our standards or face the hateful wave of negative student evaluations at the end of the semester. I found an online article by a chemistry professor that sums up the problem.

Are students getting lazier, or are teachers becomes less competent? Should we strive to entertain our students as well as inform them? Read these student responses and see what things look like out there. Feel free to add your .02 cents to the forum if you choose.

Comments

Would anybody be interested in starting a campaign to eradicate anonymous student evaluations? I think that these evals should NOT be anonymous, and that students should be held up to scrutiny themselves before we take their comments seriously in tenure/promotion/re-hiring decisions.

"Should we strive to entertain our students as well as inform them?"

Might not be a popular opinion, but yes, we should. When I think back on the best professors I ever had, they brought something else to the classroom besides the material--a joke, a charmingly curmudgeon-esque rant about some mindless movie like "Space Jam," some spark of personality. I think that ideally, teachers should bring a little entertainment into the mix, but I don't necessarily think it's something we should strive for to the extent that we make it part of our prep for class.

I'm still thinking about anonymous student evals...the proposal sounds intriguing, and one of your students mentioned it too (Mo B Ridin Cus). I think it would be interesting too to maybe do retrospective evaluations--have you ever had a teacher who seemed awful at the time, but when you look back, you realize that he or she wasn't really that bad? I know I have a few like that. I also have some that, when I look back, I think are STILL every bit as bad as I thought they were at the time. It would be interesting to see if the evaluation numbers would change a year after the student took the class.

non-anonymous student evals, I mean. :-o

Your comments are very thoughtful. I have considered the matter seriously, and have arrived at the conclusion that emphasizing the entertainment value of our teaching is dangerous to the occupation. We must be held liable only for our mastery of the material and the fairness of our evaluations. Insisting that we strive to make material exciting to students is unwise, especially when no two students can agree on the entertainment quality of a movie or television show--more the less a class.

I would agree that a teacher whose love for the material is obvious makes for a higher quality learning experience than one who seems bored or tired. Perhaps the problem is that teachers seldom have control over what they teach, and end up teaching the same class over and over again (perhaps three to five times in one day, even.) I doubt that even the finest actor could deliver the same performance if he or she were stuck performing the same role ad infinitum, and was denied the opportunity to try refreshing new roles.

Another problem with demanding entertainment is that our material is rather limited in scope. The jokes, sketches, music, and movies so popular with students are often crass and quite vulgar. I don't know about you all, but I've been told not to show my classes any movies with questionable sexual content, like the Rocky Horror Picture Show or Clockwork Orange. In an extreme scenario, showing a class any film depicting sexual situations can become a case of sexual harassment, with the student/s claiming that the film produced a "hostile environment," which is one of the critical legal definitions of harassment. The same could be said for movies with off-color jokes.

Let's not forget that satire is unwise. Imagine Jonathan Swift publishing his "Modest Proposal" tor Karl Mark "Communist Manifesto" today--they'd be arrested and put away for terrorism.

We must fight the profit-driven influences put upon us by unsympathetic administrators to entertain as well as educate our students. We cannot be held liable student performance or retention; such onuses are on the student, not us.

What if we could choose our students based on surveys filled out by their former teachers? (Dream on.)

I think he brings up some issues that really need to be discussed from the point of view of both the teachers and the students.

Changing and improving science and math teaching and learning at the K-12 level is difficult enough, but undergraduate classes have hardly budged an inch in 50 years. I mean, look at this professor who states the fact that his teaching methods haven't changed in the past few decades as if it were a good thing, and was "proof" that something about the students has to be the problem, not him or the curriculum.

Maybe the problem is both the changing culture of students and the lack of change in the undergraduate teaching culture.

Those are excellent points, doug on. I've often thought that perhaps the problem isn't so much that our students are "dumb" or "lazy," but rather that they're actually very literate--only the type of literacy they've evolved is much different from what the academy (and most businesses, etc.) would deem literate. For instance, many of our students can watch multiple television shows at once, talk on the phone, listen to music, and do homework all at the same time. Maybe we should evolve teaching methods that put less emphasis on "focus" and more on simultaneous methods of mass instruction..