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To expect my students to show a teensy amount of initiative?

(178 Posts)
dontrunwithscissors Tue 09-Feb-16 09:11:53

I'm an academic in the Humanities. I'm currently teaching a third year class & they're driving me mad. (I work in Scotland so their degree results are based on grades in years 3 and 4.)

In order to make life as 'easy' as possible, the tutorial reading is either available digitally or I provide a photocopy. They're usually expected to read 40-50 pages so hardly a huge amount.

At the start of the semester, I warned them that there had been some issues with the digitisation license and that it was possible that some materials may end up not being available. I also explained that I don't get any notice in situations like this & to let me know straight away if there were any problems.

So, it turns out that the main text for today's class has disappeared from the digitised texts. The only person on the course of 23 students emailed me to tell me at 4pm yesterday. Class is at 10am today. There are 3 students giving class presentations today that's worth 15% of the final grade

AIBU to expect students to have bloody well pulled themself together and 1) attempted to access the reading earlier; 2) highlighted the problem earlier. I'm particularly shocked that none of the people presenting this week figured to ask for it.

I'm pissed off with students being 'babied'. It gets worse by the year. They want everything on a plate and go running to mummy and daddy when they don't get the 2:1 they assume they will get. They can't be arsed to read (keeping in mind that this is a humanities degree so reading widely is a basic requirement.) Ive even had notes from parents explaining that their snowflake should be allowed to submit work late becauSe they're not good at planning or had to go to a wedding...

Apologies for typos. I'm on my phone + on the bus n

SlipperyJack Tue 09-Feb-16 09:16:01

YANBU. DH is a lecturer and he regularly expresses disbelief about how passive, lacking in initiative and downright entitled most of his students are. He says it's even worse since tuition fees - they say they are "paying" for their degree and that the customer is always right....

CottonFrock Tue 09-Feb-16 09:20:20

I'm also an academic in the humanities, and I feel your pain. I taught a seminar last week for which the students had to read three short texts, two from the Norton Anthology which they are all required to have, and have owned since they were first years, and the other available on Blackboard. A good one third of them showed up, not only without doing the reading, but without the texts with them - and several of those slightly more motivated souls who had in fact read everything in advance of the class hadn't actually downloaded the Blackboard text at all, because it didn't occur to them. They'd read it, hadn't they?

And at my last institution, I had parents phoning me for extensions on behalf of Snowflake, or showing up at the post-exam results consultation hours to demand a regrade because Snowflake (aged 21 or so) was 'too intimidated'.

SlipperyJack Tue 09-Feb-16 09:25:27

Oh yes, and do not get my DH started on the topic of Notifications of Exceptional Circumstances.

CottonFrock Tue 09-Feb-16 09:26:04

And yes, I never paid a penny for any of my degrees - I managed on scholarships throughout - so I tend to think that paying £9k per year would really focus the mind, make you think about whether you really wanted to be there, and essentially work hard so as not to waste enormous sums of cash. But absolutely, the effect in some cases I've seen recently is that the student is a customer 'buying' a 2.1, and the academic is the jobsworth who stands between him/her and it.

One colleague recently had a problem with the AV system in a lecture theatre and our very efficient IT took 20 minutes to get it back up and running, while she gave a no-visuals version of her lecture. A student tweeted the VC to complain, having calculated how much he was 'paying' for that 20 minutes.

It's very grim.

TeenAndTween Tue 09-Feb-16 09:30:03

Is it possible that it was on the system, so the other 22 have read it. It is just it disappeared by the time the at-the-last-minute student tried to access it? and do pigs fly ??

ABetaDad1 Tue 09-Feb-16 09:39:33

Totally agree with everyone on this thread. Me and DW have both taught in universities and quite frankly we have come to the conclusion that the introduction of university fees has resulted in university VCs only being interested in the cash income a student brings and not the quality standard. Likewise students have come to believe that if they pay they should get their degree regardless of what they do.

In fact, Govt is equally to blame. The widening of university attendance to 50% of school leavers was only ever designed to keep them off the unemployment register.

All round its a con. The university lecturer is the person getting the flack for a system that Govt, university VCs and students pretend is about academic excellence when in fact it is only about paying money for a degree and no one cares what happens in between.

Foreign students are even worse than British students in this regard.

Glad I don't teach in universities any more. My DW couldn't believe that her third year students didn't know how to reference, use a library or access material on line. They expected to be given a photocopied pack of slides at the beginning of her courses so they didn't actually have to turn up. They also seemed to believe they could send draft course work to her, ask what grade she would give, tips on to improve the grade and then send it back to them so they could submit it again.

I once caught a foreign student cheating by copying soeone elses course work and the university basically shrugged its shoulders because he was a foreign student paying a lot of money and they didn't want the hassle of throwing off the course.

ABetaDad1 Tue 09-Feb-16 09:43:01

No wonder employers have started introducing their own online tests before they interview students. They cant trust the grade of the A level or university degrees that students turn up with - amazingly though so many with a 2.1 and yet cant do Maths and English to an acceptable standard.

MrsHathaway Tue 09-Feb-16 09:45:18

My lecturer friend expresses similar sentiments.

Now that they're paying, they think they're buying a degree, and their £9k a year should be sufficient input on their part.

As if degrees weren't devaluing as it is!

OldFarticus Tue 09-Feb-16 09:47:30

YANBU except that it pre-dates the introduction of tuition fees. I graduated in 1995 and as Beta says, there were foreign students graduating with 2:1's from my RG university despite barely being able to read or write in English.

The home students were instructed to STFU in our tutorials because we intimidated those whose first language was not English and they also required the opportunity to participate because they paid more than us.

Is this just a British problem or does it happen elsewhere?

MrsHathaway Tue 09-Feb-16 09:48:00

DH tells me that when he was at Oxford, once the papers had been marked and moderated and externally moderated, they were incinerated. I bet they don't do that any more!

Baconyum Tue 09-Feb-16 09:58:04

I graduated 10 years ago as a mature student. There were a number of issues I noticed even then. My course was English literature and linguistics.

School leavers with A* at A-level having such poor spelling and grammar the university had instituted a policy where the first week was spelling and grammar lessons! There were people who didn't know what an adverb was!

Poor attitude as a result of spoon feeding by parents and (probably because of the parents) secondary schools

Inability to organise their time, leaving starting assignments designed to take half a term until 3 days before deadline (then wondering why marks were shit!)

Not knowing how to use key equipment.

Not being critical in their use of the internet (believing any old twaddke regardless of the source even quoting it!)

Not indexing or referencing correctly despite being taught repeatedly!

As for reading, in the first week I actually heard one say 'there's too much reading' IT WAS AN ENGLISH DEGREE WHAT DID THEY EXPECT?!

Further - only reading the primary texts and possibly secondary texts actually mentioned in lectures/seminars. Before the end of the 1st year our strictest lecturer (who I loved he was great made it fun and interesting and really knew his stuff - he got fed up and left) actually had to begin a lecture pointing out theres a reason you 'read' a subject at university (he referenced when they say on university challenge 'John smith reading ppe') that meant you're supposed to 'read around' not do the bare minimum, not bother critically assessing sources and only read what you think the lecturer mentioned 3 weeks ago in the lecture you talked through and didn't make notes on! angry

I was bloody chuffed to get a place and see education at that level as a gift (which is not to say it shouldn't be available to all who want it), but slacker students pissed me off and it did tend to be the younger ones.

Contrary to a pp I found the overseas students more conscientious as they had parents paying a fortune not only for the course but living costs and travel costs home too.

And that's just the academic stuff! Don't get me started on the little precious snowflakes who couldn't boil an egg as it was 'too dangerous' for them to be near hot water at 18!

bumbleymummy Tue 09-Feb-16 09:58:08

YANBU but agree with OldFarticus that this was going on even before tuition fees increased. Too much spoon feeding in schools at A-levels IMO. So many students just don't know how to think for themselves. You have to walk them through how to figure out a problem. It's ridiculous.

ABetaDad1 Tue 09-Feb-16 09:59:18

Its reached epidemic proportions in the US. Student debt is so high that it is unsustainable. The university system in the US is about at breaking point. Students leaving uni with useless degrees and VC over there earning massive salaries all powered by ever rising student fees paid for with debt no one can ever pay back.

The idea of paying for a degree totally skews the relationship between student, university and Govt. Lets get back to what in effect was a quasi scholarship system with limited supply of university places of a high quality standard as we used to have with the old UK student grant system.

Lets stop this stupid 'all will win prizes' culture where there is no minimum standard. A university degree used to mean something and UK universities were among the best in the world not a place that handed out a piece of paper in return for paying £27k.

3WiseWomen Tue 09-Feb-16 10:01:46

I have never never seen the sort of things you decsribe in French UNi OldFaticus.

Actually I'm qute surprised because when I did my Master in the UK, I had to sit an exam first to prove my english was good enough. That was before enrolling into the course. I would have expected something like this for all courses.

PanGalaticGargleBlaster Tue 09-Feb-16 10:03:50

...you would never get this kind of student behaviour on an engineering degree

<ducks for cover>

CottonFrock Tue 09-Feb-16 10:05:03

Oh, it was certainly going on before tuition fees increased - and I also taught in another country where there were no tuition fees, and then only token ones, with similarly lackadaisical student attitudes from some - but the quite aggressive sense of money-related entitlement here seems to have worsened since the fees hike.

There's a clash between 'I am a student being taught and assessed by an expert in the field, and my job as a student is to do whatever it takes to produce an acceptable standard of work in order to get decent grades, not to mention an education in a field I presumably love' and 'I am a customer who has paid X thousand pounds for a service which is being provided by that lecturer, therefore I am the one with the power, and he/she is someone whose salary I am paying, and I get to complain if I don't like my grades or the lectures are too hard or the books are too long'.

velourvoyageur Tue 09-Feb-16 10:08:15

Students always get a really rough time on here. It strikes me as fairly rude sometimes.

You never hear nice stories about the students who run societies, do RAG week, get involved in open days etc etc and then get up at 6 to go to the library & search for internships (which I can tell you do take effort to get hold of). Maybe people at my uni are uncommonly focused and special? No, I don't think so - it's just that among students, like with any other group of the population, there are lazy and driven people.

When I studied abroad at a 'top' uni during Erasmus, I was surprised at how lax it was re: referencing etc. If we used as few sources here as final year students there did on average there we would not scrape a 2.2. I did another semester at another uni abroad with VG reputation & there it was all completely, totally handed to us on a plate. We were given every article as PDFs, expected to learn it & remember it for the exam and nothing more, so no individual research & very little analysis.

If we are a bit cautious maybe it's because for our first 12 years of education we've been told to sit and wait for instructions & penalised when we do take the initiative - starting from primary when you use the wrong colour ink!

I don't feel like I'm buying my degree and I am working bloody hard. There is no way that you can get a good degree without trying & engaging with it.

bigmouthstrikesagain Tue 09-Feb-16 10:09:29

YANBU - but I am afraid that I was a bit like that doing my politics degree back in the early '90's - I was enjoying the freedom and beer and not as organised as I should be but I did do enough to end up with a 2:1 - I just work best when there is a deadline looming - it focuses my mind and I was able to produce work properly structured and referenced and as the internets did not really exist then (I had a typewriter with a calculator screen) there was no indiscriminate google researching.

I think the internet does make for lazy learners - you don't need to remember stuff if you can just google it! I am guilty of that myself these days. But my mother would never have dreamed of complaining to the University - I doubt I even told her my marks yet alone who who taught me! Perhaps tuition fees etc. mean parents are motivated to find out exactly how their son or daughter are getting on... while the kids are just the same mix of wasters and motivated learners there has always been, just with the entitled attitude that comes with being financially heavily invested.

acasualobserver Tue 09-Feb-16 10:10:27

The problem starts in school where they are, indeed, offered everything on a plate. Additionally, anything difficult to chew is removed and replaced with pre-masticated gobbets.

CottonFrock Tue 09-Feb-16 10:11:02

...you would never get this kind of student behaviour on an engineering degree

It's true that the problem with teaching Eng. Lit. is that some students seem to imagine that the course will function rather like a cosy book club, where they get to read some nice, undemanding YA novels and talk about whether they 'identify with' or 'relate to' the heroine, and it's all about their feelings and whether they could 'get into it'. They see reading as a hobby, rather than work.

From friends who lecture in non-humanities fields don't have to struggle with the expectation that lectures and seminars will be fuzzy, undemanding, enjoyable 'fun'.

ABetaDad1 Tue 09-Feb-16 10:15:47

PanGalatic - me and DW have taught classes of engineering students on joint honours courses (with an element of business) and frankly they are no better. They might be good at the mathematical finance bits but put them I front of a case study that needs some sort of readingor analytical thought and they are swimming with no shorts like the rest of the class.

They still don't know how to do referencing, use a library and expect the course lecturer to spoon feed them. By the way we are talking Russell Group here not some former poly.

In our day at Oxford, the lecturer would sweep into the lecture theatre, deliver an incomprehensible lecture whilst standing with their back to us writing on the board, refuse to take any questions, hand out a massive reading list and expect us to get down the Bodleian library and read the original scientific papers to figure out what on earth he/she was talking about.

Often the papers were reading had only been published the week before and we were expected to keep reading right up to the exam - just in case any new research was published that might be relevant to the final exam.

velourvoyageur Tue 09-Feb-16 10:16:21

we've been told over and over that we are not the ones paying for anyone's salaries - no one thinks like that! Education is expensive, whoever's footing the bill, and lecturers aren't accountable to us.

BarbaraofSeville Tue 09-Feb-16 10:20:45

I'm not sure that this sort of behaviour is especially new, or limited to humanities.

I did a science degree in the 1990s - part time, so we were all working full time too - we attended the course one day a week. One of the students claimed that he 'couldn't afford' to buy a certain text book we were supposed to have.

The Professor asked him how much he had spent in the pub on the previous Friday night. He admitted to an amount of money that was more than the price of the book, new in the shop. Professor suggested that if he wanted to take his studies seriously, he should buy books necessary to the course before pissing his money up the wall.

We shared some lectures with the full time students and many of them never turned up until it was near exam time, when the size of the class literally tripled.

shovetheholly Tue 09-Feb-16 10:24:14

I'm afraid that the more that we move towards a market-orientated university system, the less the students actually get a life-transformative experience.

It's way, way worse than it used to be, too: I used to think students I taught 15 years ago were bad, but they were independent compared to current ones. I think they've been disciplined, in an almost Foucauldian way - they are so very, very docile nowadays too, with little spark of radicalism or rebellion or even of the kind of creativity that says 'I'm going to do OK in my degree, but develop a real forte in drama/music/art'. In some cases, as you say, they don't even seem to be able to manage basic tasks any more. Yet all of this doesn't seem to come with some enjoyment of laziness, or some wider, enriched experience where they are trading their degree grade against a passion for drama or creative writing or art. In fact, many of them seem almost pathologically anxious. sad

I think we have a school system and parenting that equate education with a series of bullet points to be regurgitated in response for grades, rather than the development of interpretative skills and critical thinking. They're so insulated from the world, too - I find the whole 'student village' concept incredibly depressing. Many literally don't leave quite a confined spatial area, where they have everything laid on - which means that many of them no longer experience even the confined 'poverty' that old-fashioned students, either individually or spatially. I worry that this means that they're not only leaving with a very thin, impoverished education but also a very thin, impoverished experience of wider life.

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