Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Today in WTF?! (A profane rant.)

...so a group of librarians and anthropologists at Illinois universities got together and did a study that basically concludes that, not only do students have no freaking clue how to use the library, the overwhelming majority of them don't even know how to Google their way out of a wet paper bag. (And, in related news, the sky is blue.)

One of the study's authors is quoted in an Inside Higher Ed article on the findings as saying that the study "exploded this myth of the ‘digital native,’", because, apparently, "just because you’ve grown up searching things in Google doesn’t mean you know how to use Google as a good research tool.” (To which my response pretty much boils down to, "Um...are you new here?!".)


Even though the research showed students demonstrated an "almost complete lack of interest in seeking assistance from librarians during the search process”, "overestimated their ability or knowledge", "did not identify that they were having difficulties with which they could use help", and thought of librarians as being "glorified ushers" who were just there to point students towards the bathrooms, somehow, *profs* are at least partly to blame for students' inability to research...even though those same students admittedly come to the library WITHOUT THE RESEARCH ASSIGNMENT.

I'll spare you the various logical/rhetorical contortions required to come to this conclusion (the links are above if you'd really like to see for yourself), and skip straight to the turn-the-air-blue-ranting part (fair warning).

I am so sick and tired of being held responsible for those who utterly refuse to take any fucking responsibility for themselves. The overwhelming majority of students I've encountered don't ever RTFS, they use no source but Wikipedia (frequently forgetting to change the font/delete the hyperlinks), and they text/Facebook/play games through class (when they show up at all) - yet somehow, it's MY fault when they don't learn?! And somehow, they pass anyways?! And somehow, I'm not supposed to think that getting through university aiming to "satisfice" is a bad thing?!

Fuck that.

I almost flunked out of university the first time around. Why? Because I didn't want to be there and didn't want to do the work. I wasn't taking courses I cared about, I had no sense of why I was actually there (other than that I was "supposed to be"), and I couldn't be bothered to show up most of the time. I wrote papers using the "beer a page" strategy more times than I can count (or actually remember). I stopped going to class or turning in assignments once I had mathematically done enough to pass (hey - I never said I was stupid). I was a shitty, unmotivated student - but I owned it then as I own it now.

Never once did I blame a prof for not coming into my dorm, shaking me awake, and delivering a lecture to me according to MY schedule, or try to game the system, or plagiarize, or say or think I deserved anything other than the Fs I so often received - because I was crystal fucking clear on the fact that if you don't show up and you don't do the work, THEN YOU DESERVE TO BLOODY WELL FAIL. (And so I did.)

While it pisses me off to no end that today, I probably could have gotten into the grad school of my choice with that C- GPA I ultimately scraped together at the end of twice as long as it should have taken me to finish my BA (and not just because it would probably have been finessed up to an A-), it also pisses me off to no end that somehow, in the intervening decade and a half, an undergrad education has become overwhelmingly about students "doing enough to get by" instead of about actually learning - and that somehow, it's completely possible and acceptable to do the former without even attempting to do the latter.

So I call bullshit. I call bullshit on universities and colleges that see dollar signs where they should see students and budding intellects, on governments that have all but turned undergrad degrees into the early adult equivalent of the trophies every pre-schooler gets just for donning soccer cleats, and today, I call bullshit on the authors of this study, who did not take the opportunity to frame their results as "Snowflakes are too fucking flaky to recognize there is shit they don't know, ask for help, follow basic instructions, or perform tasks with any degree of depth or engagement.". Rather, they spewed still more crap about faculty "learning to serve students more effectively" by "adjusting their expectations to the realities of what students already know -- and can be reasonably expected to learn" - because, gosh darn it, it's just so difficult for those students to learn anything at all.




  1. Okay, I admit that I didn't read the article, but why, exactly, is it professors' (rather than, say, librarians') responsibility to solve this problem?

    I'd also note that, in my experience (teaching mostly a late sophomore/early junior-level writing-in-the-disciplines course), a substantial minority of undergraduates (say 30%) have mastered both library and effective google searching quite well, and are ready and willing to learn additional, more effective techniques (e.g. finding one or two recent, reliable sources and mining their notes and bibliographies for more, and/or using those sources to find better keywords/subject terms). At least another 30% -- in my experience, closer to 50% -- start getting the techniques quite quickly if circumstances force them to concentrate on the task for, say, 10 minutes (e.g. a professor or librarian is looking over their shoulder). As we've noticed several times recently with writing, the problem isn't really what they can do, or can fairly quickly learn to do, it's getting them to pay sustained attention to a task long enough to master even fairly simple skills.

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  3. Hi Drunk,

    I hear your rant, and I share it. For a very brief time, I taught at a bullshit institution that had started a ridiculous initiative wherein faculty were supposed to report to counseling services ANYTIME a snowflake did a snowflakey thing: not show up, be habitually late, not come to class prepared; not "engaging" (fuck me, if I never see that word used again to refer to what students are SUPPOSED to do, it'll be too soon). Then counseling services would intervene, and see what it was that WE could do to make the child's, I mean student's learning experience better. In other words, how much more responsibility could we take away from them and heap on to ourselves. One asshole actually said that because students are in an extended adolescence that takes them into their mid 20s, we have to accommodate them.

    Because I am a smart ass and knew I was checkin' out at the end of that semester, I said, well, I'll just the whole class list into the system right now, because a good 75% of them are going to "disengage" at some point. Anyway, on general principles, I didn't report a single damn one of them. I got the same damn bell curve I always got, and life went on.

    When exactly are they supposed to become responsible?

  4. @Cranky: apparently sometime long after they are (1)capable of reproducing, (2) allowed to drive a car, (3) eligible to join the military, and, in most cases even (4) allowed to (legally) drink. Carrying a deadly weapon and operating machinery more dangerous than a car probably also fall somewhere in there, but I'm not sure of exact ages, just that, in most states, the age falls well before the usual college graduation age. But heaven forfend that we should expect them to operate "the google," let alone a library database, effectively. I don't get it.

  5. Oh, yeah -- we also let them vote. Heaven help us.

  6. Ovreductd, you just made my tea-partin' day!

  7. I blame the parents; if the dumb schmucks want their offspring to do well in school, they need to teach them how to use the library, accquaint them with the Dewey Decimal and the Library of Congress systems, show them how to use search engines.

    It's almost like the little scheisskopfs think children learn this stuff by osmosis. Time to come up with a new category of camp inmate: "idiot parents"; should fit in nicely next to "social fascist Republicans" and the vast sea of "Traitors to the Motherland" (anybody who clapped when their plane left Soviet airspace.)

  8. Streinikov, you mean they don't learn by osmosis? Why, I thought the Tea Partiers thought that you just let them steep in hot water and then all the goodness flows into them.

    And isn't an answer just a google away?

  9. dimc, are you my doppleganger? Your ug experience closely resembles my own. As a former slackass, I understand the mindset of the mediocre student. However, in slackass and keener modes, I never ever -- not even once -- grubbed for grades. I figured that the C- was an accurate reflection of the paper I'd pieced together in the library the day before the end of term.

    But, since we're assigning blame -- I'd add to Strelnikov's comment that those same parents should stop writing their children's homework. (My sister works in a public library: she spends as much time helping parents find material as students).


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