Yesterday, I took one of my classes to the library. They're already supposed to have ideas for their long research-based paper, so, after a few general comments on their written descriptions of their plans, which I'd read over quickly just before class, and a very brief orientation to the library ("there's the microfilm; there are the stacks, where the books are; here's the listing of what books are on what floor; here's the circulation desk, there's the reference desk, this is how you decide which desk you need"), I gave them most of the class period to search for sources (on terminals or in the stacks), and consult with me and/or the reference librarians. Most made good use of the time, some taking off immediately to search and wandering back to ask questions later, others talking with me about their topics first, then heading off to search. And I'm sure a few simply disappeared in the direction of the food court or the parking lot as soon as my back was turned. That doesn't particularly bother me; they're going to have to refine their topics and find the sources eventually, or suffer the consequences, and this was an especially good opportunity to get a solid start on the process, with varying kinds of help conveniently available. Taking advantage of it or not was their choice, and at least they made the choice without bothering me about it. Yes, they'll get attendance credit on false pretenses, but their papers, which represent a far larger part of the grade, won't be as good, or they'll have to work harder, on their own time, to make them as good.
But then there were two who clearly had questions, but somehow couldn't quite figure out what to do with the opportunity to consult with me. One waited around a little while, eavesdropping on others' questions (which is fine; often one student's question is answered by listening to my conversation with another), then asked if she could email me, since her question would take far longer than the (quite productive 2-5-minute) conversations she had overheard. She was going to go find a terminal and email me right then, so I could answer that evening (which I -- perhaps foolishly -- agreed to do, and mentally added to my evening "to-do" list). 20 or so hours later, I haven't seen anything from her. And then there was the student who arrived 3/4 of the way through the class session "because he had to work," and couldn't make any of my office hours for the same reason, but wanted to know if we could meet on Friday or Saturday (when he's free, but I'm not on campus). With some persuasion, I managed to get him to talk to me there and then, and we had a fairly productive conversation. But it remains clear, from this and earlier conversations, that he really doesn't want to concentrate on my class on the day it actually meets, and would very much like to have my one-on-one attention, in person or via Skype, on weekends.
Admittedly, these students are in the minority, in this section and others, but I still find the combination of reluctance to engage with the class material at the appointed time and the expectation that I will be available to give more or less immediate feedback when they are ready to engage disturbing. Among other things, there are simply too many of them for me to offer individualized instruction on their schedules (though I try to offer it on mine). As I wrote on Monkey's recent thread, I wasn't always, by some definitions, the most engaged student during class time, but I knew that, if I wanted feedback from a professor, I had to seek it according to his or her schedule, not mine. And as a teacher who actually does try to accommodate my students' preferences and schedules when possible, I find it quite disturbing to set aside time to answer a detailed student email, then not hear a peep from the student who was so anxious to consult me (and to know that the question is still out there, lurking, ready to demand my immediate, extended attention at the worst possible time). I know some of them are struggling with the assignment -- which is a pretty challenging one, not the sort of "research paper" most of them have written before -- but how am I supposed to help if they won't talk to me? And, when we're standing there face to face, both of us clearly available, should I really have to spend energy persuading them to talk to me (and rejecting alternative times to talk) before we get down to business?