Thursday, August 19, 2010

A woeful tale of course-shopping gone awry... 'Cuz 'tis the season!

I was cleaning my saved mail folder and found this gem rejected by those nasty people over at RYS! ;) -- Meany

I have an extreme example of how course shopping can promote that culture of entitlement for students we all enjoy so much. Barry, the star of this little fable, attended a university (that most of you have heard of) and decided to linger on for another degree, extra classes, or just to make a pain of himself to more instructors -- I'm not sure which.

Barry's school is on the quarter system, and like I've heard is often common at these schools, this particular 10-week quarter allowed ADD enrollees up through week 3. This particular quarter, the course I taught met exactly nine times, for one 3-hour session each week. Barry appeared in week 3 for class #3. He had e-mailed to warn me he was coming (he wanted lecture notes, of course), and bristling with questions about whether those 2 missing weeks would be held against him. Despite being told they would be held against him ('cuz, you know, stuff happened even if he wasn't there), he showed up anyway, grabbed a syllabus, disappeared after the mid-class break, and then promptly sent a flurry of e-mails quizzing me on the course policies explained on the syllabus (a few time-stamped during the second half of the class session). I got a premonition he was trying to find ways to skirt the policies, and I was right!

Barry turned out to be a problem. He missed half of the classes (either by never showing up or disappearing after the mid-class break) and performed poorly on every single assessment (which included multiple choice quizzes, short papers, and classroom interaction). He seemed bewildered by being required to read 2 chapters of pre-digested textbook material a week (and even sent me a complaint e-mail about it!). He couldn't even grasp how the essay rubrics worked! He sent an e-mail complaint that said, "I felt like the papers were structured like this: 1/3 Content, 1/3 Spelling/Grammar and 1/3 Content We Weren't Told About." The essay was worth 30 points, but what he incorrectly called "Spelling/Grammar" (which actually included a mess of other formatting basics like double-spacing and paragraphing) counted for 5 points of those 30. Utter cluelessness.

I wanted to grab him and scream,

"Dude, one-third of thirty would be ten, not five! And those five points are for the petty shit I have to demand because students like you can't figure out a college-level paper shouldn't look like something written for an elementary school language arts class! And with regard to your 'feelings,' I felt like you wanted a C just for enrolling. Maybe if you had actually attended the class sessions, where you would have been guided through each paper assignment in order to reinforce the VERY clear written instructions, you would have felt differently about the crappy grades you earned."

But here's the real kicker: This school allows access to student transcripts, so I looked him up! Barry had enrolled in 6 courses for each of the last 3 quarters. And each and every term he WITHDREW from 2 of them. Not DROP, these were WITHDRAWALS. Barry signed up for courses, took up spots that other people might need/want, then did shitty work (if my class is any indication of his academic acumen), and then withdrew before getting his well-earned crappy-ass grade. So, someone (I am betting not Barry) paid for at least 6 classes that Barry decided not to complete but didn't drop so someone else could have his spot.

Barry is the poster-child for why "course shopping" is problematic. If ADD/DROP periods were restricted to the first week of the term, most profs would have fewer issues with it. Because, in the end, it's not about appeasing course-shoppers; it's about making sure students can take the courses they actually want. And most students who can't figure that out by the end of the 2nd class of the course really have bigger problems than us being big meanies who won't hand over our lecture notes or let them into a closed section when they beg.

1 comment:

  1. Both of the Universities I attended had ADD periods that only went about halfway through the second week. After that, it was by special permission only. Oh, the DROP periods were in the week five range, but no ADDING. And that seemed to keep the course shopping to a minimum.


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