27 April 2006

The Student - Past vs Present

"...I talk to other instructors it seems like this is becoming a problem. Because all classrooms are wireless hot spots, many students are playing games, writing e-mails, and browsing web pages during class periods. Text messaging happens constantly..."

My cousin, Roy, teaches in a university in Michigan and the above was an extract of an email from him, lamenting about his work and I thought this is an interesting topic to bring up for discussion.

While I am not about to venture into a "During my time, we had to walk 5,000 miles, everyday, barefooted on broken glass just to go to school" rant, I want to touch on the topic of the role of the student - Past vs Present.

I remembered during my time where everybody had to study hard and try to outdo each other in order to get into the modules of their choice. I also remembered dialing into the NTUVAX system from home instead of going to the school's lab to sign up for classes, since class registration opens at 8am and the computer labs don't open until 9am. As a result, I got all my class modules of choice, resulting in a 3-day week for me.

The truth is, other than working my time-table to accommodate my partying schedule, I also worked my time-table so that I get the lecturer and/or tutor of choice. Roger Marshall (Consumer Behavior), Bvsan Murthy (International Marketing) and Benny Tabalujan (Law) were some that deserved a good mention here. As "world-class" as NTU may proclaimed to be, we certainly also had our fair share of lecturing/tutoring disasters which everybody avoided like the plague.

My point is, that back then, it was the student who seeks the lecturer/tutor.

Today, it seems that this trend has been reversed. The lecturer/tutor are doing what they can to attract the students.

Suddenly, the student is the customer.

Oh the indignation of a noble profession gone cheap.

My advice to Roy is this. Content is King. Period.

You can do all sorts of fandango audio-visuals effects with a capital W for WOW factor, but still no better than a circus act should there be no substance.

I am appalled at the fact that a teacher has to perform the role of a clown in order to get the students' attention. A song and dance routine in order to appease the students.

I say, if the students are not interested to learn, fuck them. You don't owe them an education. Mind you, these college students are adults i.e. they can think for themselves. Stop mothering them. If they can't be arsed to sort out their priorities right, then why should you?

For every errant student, there is a diligent one. Perhaps it would be better allocating of invaluable resources by focusing on them and ditch the losers?

Here's my question to the 3 groups of you reading this. The current students. The ex-students. The current teachers.

What do you have to say about this?

Image Credit:
- Voxeros

1. Sallie left...
Wednesday, 26 April 2006 6:27 pm
you know how I feel about them. In a way it's a consolation to hear that Roy's experiencing the same thing in America. Over here, because we've recently introduced fees (previously, students didn't have to pay university fees), students now think that they have the right to demand. In our recent feedback evaluation (why the heck do we need evaluation?!), some comments we got were some of the lecturers were boring (that's because they were trying to transmit theories and frameworks, not tell grandfather stories - which they seem to prefer), the textbooks were boring/too thick (just because it doesn't have many pictures), and the topic they opted for wasn't what they wanted (well, they had up to 4 weeks to change out of it at the start of term, why didn't they?).

someone overheard two students walking down a corridor saying 'OMG, i can't believe he expects us to read?!!'. hmm. students don't read anything unless they have to, and it has to be readily available. Apparently, researching the topic in question is no longer the thing to do, because you as teacher are expected to provide everything. if you expect them to research, questions come back as to 'your essay title is too difficult, complicated', it's not covered in the syllabus, why is it not in the textbook (well,it's in the journal article, it's in another textbook)...

As lecturers, we have to write a report if more than 15% of the class fails. A conundrum then happens - do you want to write the report and basically say well, the students were shit, so we failed them (hence blaming the recruitment department), or say well, i was a shit teacher?, or what? Or you end up 'passing' these students against your conscience. big big decisions here...

I can go on and on... but I shan't. I think what really annoys me to no end is the fact that students nowadays appear to head on to university because 'it's expected' and therefore i can get a better job (So the logic follows). when actually, it's about the pursuit of knowledge, the betterment of self (not just through studying, but the interaction with classmates, the extra curricular activities, the workshops we set up for them, the presentation skills they learn etc). I know some students say things like it's better to get any degree from a good university rather than to go to a worse university to study the subject I want - I don't get that, at all.

2. kim left...
Wednesday, 26 April 2006 10:25 pm
what? you mean you all were able to choose lecturers and tutors? these days we cant even choose (this might be the case for only my course, I have no idea). we just reg for the course that best fit our timetable and pray hard we get it. If not, too bad so sad, leading to us scrambling to register for another course.

In school, I see people surfing the web on ebay to do shopping during tutorials/lectures. But I guess that is a matter of choice. You don't wanna listen, fine with me. I listen. Just don't disturb the rest of us who wanna listen by chatting loudly or something.
This leads me to my next point: Some lecturers' accent really CMI I tell you. As some hail from Ch1na / HK, they cant really pronounce the words and the lecture turns into a lesson with them attempting to pronounce the words instead of him lecturing. Some speak with a curly wurly accent that I have problem understanding a single word they say. Not that I have anything against their nationality, but if it's really a problem for us, I think we would have to give them some feedback since not being able to understand them = nothing learnt at all. No?

3. X|a_m|_m| left...
Thursday, 27 April 2006 1:16 am ::
Yupz..the same happens in my school too...
These students who aint the least bit interested in learning yet still set foot into class makes me irritated to no end.

What's this? Going to class to make a nuisance of themselves? Sometime I wish I could just turn to those wastrels behind me yakking ever since class started & tell them to shut up or better still get out of the class if they are not interested in the lesson...grr...

4. jettykey left...
Thursday, 27 April 2006 2:34 am ::
I think the students of today are very different from those in the past. For one, disciplinary actions are mostly done away. Yes, students demand from the teachers, instead of the other way around. I wouldn't want to be a teacher of today's students.

5. sunflower left...
Thursday, 27 April 2006 9:02 am ::
I agreed with you Teacher don't owe the student an education. I also don't agree with the idea, the parents pass the responsibility to the teacher to discipline the kid.

6. akk left...
Thursday, 27 April 2006 10:46 am
i'm both the last 2 options. education is something you have to fight and reach for, not something to be given. of cos, as the teacher, u should give as much as u can but should always leave something hanging; the student should never just sit and take everything in, but should find and tie the loose ends.

Fuck the term 'customers'. lecturers/presidents who say that are only rooting for awards and bonuses and increase enrollment, usually to justify the lack of research.

7. JayWalk left...
Thursday, 27 April 2006 2:10 pm :: 
SALlie: I knew you'd be the first to comment here. Heh heh.
Some subjects are just dry by nature. What's a lecturer going to do about it? Magic show?
Also the fact that university is now easier then last time as long as you have money. Kinda makes it difficult for the lecturers now that they have to deal with a lower grade of "material".

kim: My time, the Indian professors are the ones that gave us the most grief. While we can't choose lecturers per se, we were able to pick the various tutors that conducts the respective supporting tutorials.

Xia Mi Mi: Welcome to the blog! I supposed we are free to do whatever we want. The onus of motivation should rest on the students and not the lecturers/tutors.
However, I believe it is basic manners for your fellow students that you do not disturb the others' peace.

JettyKey: I think being a teacher up to JC level should still be ok. After all the discipline up to that level still pretty heavily enforced. It's the Poly/Uni levels where the students starts to go haywire thinking that they are free to do whatever they want.

8. JayWalk left...
Thursday, 27 April 2006 2:22 pm ::
Sunflower: I think in this context, we are talking about kids who are older and perhaps even in their early 20s. I don't think discipline of the child is no longer relevant here.

Akk: I believe the lecturer is of the view that he/she is willing to teach if the student is willing to learn.
Teachers after all are human too and they too needs motivation from time to time needs a reason to justify getting out of bed on a school day.

9. Sallie left...
Thursday, 27 April 2006 4:51 pm
Interesting to read from various countries that the 'students nowadays' really appear to be similar to each other (not country dependent) and very different from our generation and beyond.

The good and appreciative students make it worthwhile to get up in the morning and go to work. When you open an appreciative email saying that they got into a Masters programme in Cambridge as a result of your fantastic recommendation, when their parents and relatives come to university to thank you personally for what you've done for them, when they remember you a few years after you taught them, when they willingly come back to university to talk to the current cohort of students because their experience at uni was positive - that's when it seems all worth while!! :)

10. JayWalk left...
Thursday, 27 April 2006 8:46 pm ::
SALlie: True but how many students these days are appreciative of their respective teachers?
* Granted that useless and worthless teachers are to be excluded.

11. Sallie left...
Thursday, 27 April 2006 9:12 pm
all those examples I cited were true! all happened to me. but yes, how many of them are appreciative? not many - and i think it's got to do with the 'i'm a customer/consumer' mentality...

12. Everton left...
Friday, 28 April 2006 12:13 pm
Unfortunately, some students expect to be "entertained" by their professors :-( Their evaluations will affect your promotion and tenure. The pressure is definitely on the instructors if there are multiple sections offered for the same course. You will look bad if you end up having lowest enrollment at the end of the semester.
To be fair, not every American student is dumb and lazy. I have several excellent students.

13. Everton left...
Friday, 28 April 2006 12:39 pm
I can totally understand Kim's frustration with her Ch1na and HK instructors. Former Prime Minister LKY once delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress. Although LKY's an intelligent and well educated person, my American friends had a hard time following him because of the heavy accent.
To curb foreign accent problems, many states in the U.S. have passed laws require foreign teaching assistants and professors to pass mandatory English oral exams before they are allowed to teach classes!
I believe if you give your best effort to teach your students, they will show their appreciation. It's really sweet of my students to send me thank-you cards and e-mails, even though I am a foreigner.

14. JayWalk left...
Friday, 28 April 2006 4:59 pm ::
SALlie: Looks like you need a song and dance routine. How about a stand-up comic gig? Pole dancing? mmmmmmm...........

Everton: Finally managed to lure you out into the open after all these years. Welcome to your first comment.
LKY's english is actually not too bad. You should come and listen to these ch1nese and indian lecturers.
I guarantee your american friends would straight away take out the gun from their bags and shoot themselves in the head straight away!

15. Sallie left...
Friday, 28 April 2006 5:13 pm
Frankly, LKY's accent is completely comprehensible. My hubby (who isn't Singaporean) heard him speak (infamous conversation with the kindergarteners) and completely understood him. I wouldn't quite class him as someone with a 'heavy accent'. Some scottish people, hmm...they have 'heavy' accents! !hahahaaaaaaaaaaaa.
I once had a Chinese lecturer when I was in NUS and boy, was it difficult to understand him. In the end, we ignored him, copied the OHPs (not many people used powerpoint then!?) and hoped for the best. :)

16. JayWalk left...
Friday, 28 April 2006 6:54 pm ::
SALlie: You can't compare an american with a briton. After our dear Harry Lee is british educated and as such, no surprises there is your hubby can understand him and the yanks can't.

17. Mum2One left...
Friday, 28 April 2006 10:15 pm
Having been on the receiving end before, I must say that there is a marked difference between a lecturer who is trained to teach and a lecturer who isn't. I've had both types and the trained ones were always more creative and the students learnt better and do better. Also the materials and information given were more thoughtful and relevant.
How often do you get information given to you that you end up not knowing what to do with it?
Hence there's always room for improvement in quality of the lecturer just as there's always room for better attitude from the students.

18. Everton left...
Saturday, 29 April 2006 6:10 am
I agree while the accent problem exists, it is probably overblown. In my humble opinion, it’s just a matter of attuning one’s ear to the accent. Unfortunately, some American undergraduates are very intolerant of people with accent.

The "Oh No! Syndrome" represents the negative reactions of American undergraduate towards a foreign teaching assistant or professor when they walk into a class on the first day of a term/semester. Researchers have argued that American undergraduates play an equally important role for the existence of the Oh No! Syndrome.

In a 1995 study, Nagesh Rao attempted to correlate the degree of accentedness and American students' expectations of foreign instructors' language skills. Results indicated that when students' language expectations of foreign instructors were confirmed, they felt more angry and anxious, evaluated the foreign instructors less favorably, and were more likely to drop a class taught by a foreign instructor. Simply put, they think you are a dumb a** if you don’t speak perfect American English. Racist, huh?

19. JayWalk left...
Saturday, 29 April 2006 6:40 pm :: 
 Mum2One & Everton: I have my fair share of grief with indian lecturers during my time and I do have to split them into 2 categories.

1) The one who just go on like a machine gun without due care if anyone understands him or not.

2) Then we have the better ones who take the time to speak slowly and clearly. Pausing from time to time to see if we are following him thus far. This little gestures go a long way and we as students appreciated it tremendously simply because we felt that the lecturer actually gave a rat's ass if he was teaching well.
I am not saying that foreign lecturers should be made to speak perfect english. Merely understandable english would suffice. The lecturer must understand where he is and MUST adapt to the local environment.

We are often amused when our foreign lecturers deliberately add a lah or loh at the end of the sentence with much comic effect. He may have gotten it wrong, but hey, at least he tried.

Those who failed at this hurdle, while I am not saying that they are not talented people, they are perhaps better off in a research capacity away from people who can't understand a word that he is saying.

20. aloe left...
Tuesday, 2 May 2006 9:38 am
i did ever encounter some lecturers who teach from the text aka they just read out their presentations or just read from the textbooks. That's where a low opinion of them forms and the number of students dwindled. Of course, the last few lectures are essential in finding out if there's any tips for the exams but it comes to nought when the lecturer continues to read from the text with no explanation, no additional info whatsoever.
usually seniors will also give advise on the tutors and lecturers of the particular course so those word-of-mouth stuff really works here.

We ever had an indian lecturer with accent but guess his long stay in an english speaking country has toned that down a LOT. His lectures are not to be missed and he usually teach with real life examples which makes a dry lesson interesting.
nowadays, a lot of schools are emphasizing that they have a high number of teachers who are PHD holders to attract more students but actually, having a phd doesn't mean you can or know how to teach.

21. Pam left...
Tuesday, 2 May 2006 5:57 pm
Yes, having a PhD doesn't mean you can or know how to teach. that's way about 5years ago or so, the whole of UK's higher education universities implemented that all new PhDs had to undergo teacher training courses that last 2 years. it still doesn't guarantee that they can teach but at least it's a mandatory thing.

22. JayWalk left...
Wednesday, 3 May 2006 2:41 pm :: 
Anna & Pam: Yah. PHD is just a paper recognition of a person's depth in a particular field. It's in no way a good indicator that he/she would be a good teacher.

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