Friday, July 5, 2013

Summertime ... the whining is easy.

Having long been on the academic hamster-wheel of adjunct subsistence, I haven't had a true summer break since I was an undergraduate myself (and even then my "vacation" was my part-time job becoming full-time).

This is particularly acute in online programs that seem to be embracing their identities as 24/7/365 content deliverers. There is nary a pause as spring morphs into summer and courses just chug along.

Except ... the students don't.

C'mon, it's summertime and everyone just wants to take it easy.
This attitude is particularly incongruent for the distance student as they don't have to slog their way to a campus, lugging themselves across a scorching quad, or have to endure all-too-often balky institutional climate control.

The distance student can pretty much set the thermostat at whatever temp is desired.
They can have a refreshing adult beverage at hand if they choose.
Heck, they can even be sitting down to work in their drawers if so inclined.

But this summer, I seem to be enduring a particularly new level of brashness in the "but puleeeeze work needs to be easier."

Overwhelmed Olive's spouse contacted me to express concern that Olive's typically lauded work was not receiving the same levels of praise from me and that was causing stress. (Of course the fact that Spouse was also facing uncertain employment issues was shared as a ploy for more sympathy, not a segue to explain why Olive was withdrawing to deal with family matters.)

Walkaway Walter had his child send a message to beg my indulgence as Walter was called away to tend to an ailing parent and the child only has Walter and "gamma" so please understand.

Cultural Clarence tried to convince me that students come from differing backgrounds so it is unfair to hold them to the same standards of scholarship and composition.

And then Standards Stanley is but the latest iteration of "But Eve. R. Y'Otherinstructor" doesn't require ... sources beyond the text, adherence to APA style, complete sentences,etc." with the online student add-on of "...and I have two full-time jobs, five children, six dogs, and I'm running a triathlon, while trying to cure cancer" so you cannot expect more than a text message's worth of content in an answer.

We shouldn't care more about their education than they do ... which seems to be not at all.


  1. Cultural Clarence: Thank you for certifying that our institution promotes diversity. We want students from differing backgrounds to attend.

    In the interests of fairness and equality, we hold all our students to the same level of accountability. In that way, no student is favored over another, regardless of their background.

    We want to ensure that our graduates are mature, functioning adults and not mewling children when they leave our university as this benefits them and also our reputation as an educational institution.

    Thank you again for letting us know we're on the right track.

  2. I have an online student who admits to difficulties with reading comprehension (this at least suggests that she got to the part in my welcome/warning letter where I warn students that instructions tend to be long, detailed, and in writing, and being willing to deal with this fact is key to success in the class), but she's taking the class online anyway because her husband is being deployed this fall and she wants to spend as much time as possible with him. She is also burdened with multiple kids and assorted other responsibilities.

    I'm sympathetic, really I am, but this also strikes me as a bad decision. I'm not telling her so directly, since I've already issued, and she has apparently read, all the relevant warnings, but I'm still worried. However, she is an adult, and has apparently made and lived with the consequences of a number of other adult decisions in the course of her life. I guess she's going to have to do the same with this one.

    1. I share your sentiment, CC.

      In my experience with distance learning -- both student and faculty -- in the "early" days (late 90s/early 00s), there was a serious effort to overcompensate with regard to rigor and complexity. No one wanted legitimate online programs to be lumped in with the fly-by-night diploma mills. In order to be seen "as good" as conventional programs, there was more reading and writing.

      In the last five years or so, as online learning became less of an alternative delivery modality and more of an alternative profit stream, there has been an influx of students who just want to buy the degree and seem less inclined to do the basic work, never mind above and beyond.

      More and more students who have bought the line that a college degree is the magic ticket to success and stability. But as they are working three part-time jobs (at least one with an "Office Space" Lumbergh), with a gaggle of kids, and apparently one ill member of the family.

      But the educational program they have undertaken, that was clear about IT being a part-time job needing at least 20 - 25 hours of work a week gets relegated to the first/last few minutes of the day. This leaves course work ending up looking like a text message written while walking/running.

    2. In the last five years or so, as online learning became less of an alternative delivery modality and more of an alternative profit stream, there has been an influx of students who just want to buy the degree and seem less inclined to do the basic work, never mind above and beyond.

      Indeed. And, as in many things, the most common advertising, methods, etc. for online classes drive student expectations, even for courses whose teachers (including me) have strong incentives to maintain standards (for instance, the course I teach is offered in multiple modes, and our online learning office is very much interested in proving to accreditors -- who, no matter how many assessment hoops they create, I'm inclined to regard as our friends, perhaps even our last hope for upholding standards -- that the online course is fully equivalent to the face to face one). I, too, am getting more and more blatant pushback about how hard my course is, especially during summer session. Add to that the fact that I teach a required course that many students feel they don't need to/shouldn't have to take (even, perhaps especially, after they've failed it once -- the situation for a substantial number of summer students, some of whom have already walked across a stage in cap and gown), and it's not a pretty picture.

  3. CC--do we teach at the same place? Sure sounds like it.

  4. Since you teach online, tell the complaining students that they can have classmates from around the world, even the southern hemisphere where they are deep into winter now.