Thursday, March 31, 2016

The eternal question...

Sometimes I'm left honestly unsure whether a student has a comprehension problem or a communication problem. 

I've been working through providing feedback on drafts of honours capstone Rodent Science projects, which are written by Rodent Studies students in their final semester at university. 

One part-draft contains the following phrases:

"this project studies the forests that inhabit the squirrel"

"the forests that inhabit the squirrel are mostly coniferous"

"the forests that inhabit the squirrel are hard to walk through"

Native English speaker, no registered issues… comprehension, or communication?

I can't wait to read the methods section if it was the former!

-Grumpy Academic


  1. This reminds me of "comprises" vs "is comprised of".

    Is it the verb "inhabit" specifically, or is it all transitive verbs? Or is it inability to form the passive correctly?

    1. I noticed it strongly with 'inhabit' - which might be due to some kind of formation problem as woods which ARE INHABITED BY squirrels kind of makes more sense. There were some other infelicitous word choices which illustrated a serious lack of either editing or comprehension of written English, or perhaps over-reliance on spell-checkers. The student is a bit of an oddity in that they are actually taking a social-science focused degree route and yet have chosen to do a STEM final project. Based on previous experience, I expected good writing which didn't fit the conventions rather than what I got...


  2. It's got to be a communication issue (or laziness issue), doesn't it? I mean, if the student doesn't know that squirrels inhabit forests but not the other way around, the student would have the brain of a two year old. That would be pretty obvious in a lot of other situations.

  3. I'm suspecting a whole-assignment brain-fart kind of situation, but the mental image amused me greatly so I decided to share it.

    We 'as to take us pleasures where we finds 'em in this line of business...

    --Grumpy Academic--

  4. I once had a student write a paper about the legal system and kept talking about "trails."

    There is no damn way he bothered to proofread, right? But what if he really didn't know *trial* and *trail* were 2 different words?

  5. I once had to talk a colleague back from the ledge when she was grading a stack of papers on A Tale of Two Cities, one of which contained this gem, which quickly became legendary in our circle:

    "The French Revolution was because of the Bastille. The Bastille was to free the oppressed people."

  6. GA, your pain is felt ... deeply.

    In your example, it does pretty obvious that the student is having a communication problem.

    The bane of my for-profit distance delivered graduate program are students who think that repeating the intro text is sufficient to illustrate the specifics of research proposals.

    To wit:
    > As TextAuthor (2013) says, qualitative interviewing involves asking questions of the participants ...
    > OtherAuthor (2012) explains that data will be collected then analyzed ...
    > In my investigation, I will fill the gap that I discovered [by doing a cursory Google search of the topic].