This is precisely why I have an attendance policy.

13 04 2010

I’m not sure I have it in me, but this blog post Daily Illini gives me the opportunity to channel UD and I’ll take it since I’m feeling brave:

To go to class or not to go — that is the question many of us face each Monday morning. Actually, make that every Monday through Friday, morning ‘til night. Yet, instead of debating with myself about what cereal to eat when the sun comes up, I find myself snapping, crackling, and popping on a bowl of Rice Krispies as I wonder, “Is it really worth it?”

Back in ancient history when I went to college, there were plenty of people who hated class,* but at least they had the class to try to hide it when their professors were in earshot. I know I’m old, but to see this kind of kvetching online for all the world to see still shocks me.

In all seriousness, this question isn’t one most students struggle with due to pure laziness (most of the time anyway), but rather because more and more classes are proving to us that attendance is not synonymous with an A. Which leads me to the true topic of this column: Is the college classroom becoming paperless? My initial reaction: I don’t think so. But without the obligation to turn in homework and papers during class due to an online submitting policy, or to attend lecture due to the fact that many professors put their PowerPoint presentations online, it is noticeably less “paper-full.”

The true topic of this column has nothing to do with whether college is becoming paperless. It has to do with whether technology has become an excuse for lousy teaching.

I’ll certainly grant that putting everything you need to know from lecture online is not a good idea. Nevertheless, there is a difference between doing the minimum required to pass a course and actually learning something. If more students were paying tuition to be educated rather than to get a degree, this shouldn’t even be an issue.

Many classes I am in, or have taken — atmospheric science, sociology, Spanish — have been formatted as online friendly. Posting lecture notes, labs, assignments, paper topics, vocabulary lists, extra credit opportunities and even online office hours through special programs have all been made possible. And I for one am not complaining. Efficient and effective, I am handed all the information I need to obtain a good grade — which has started to make me think, why go to lecture for these classes when they are basically shoving an A into my fingertips as I scroll through Compass?

The quality control at Illinois must have completely broken down. Take Spanish, for example. I was absolutely miserable at foreign languages, but I know that I had to attend class in order to be able to practice speaking the language with the TA at the front of the room. If you don’t come to class, you might as well save your tuition and buy one of those Rosetta Stone programs that cost $125. It would be a lot cheaper even if it’s less effective.

Perhaps all is not lost though as the author of the post does eventually come around to the side of the angels:

Yet, it’s not that simple. Contrary to the popular reaction we all take part in when laughing at what a “joke of a class” these technologically inclined classes may seem, in reality it shouldn’t be that funny. Because guess what? We’re all paying for that “joke of a class.” Whether it is you personally or your parents, sooner or later, we’re going to realize the joke’s on us. For even though I love to joke around about how easy some of my classes have been, the fact of the matter is the only thing it is helping is my GPA.

So while this story turns out to have a halfway happy ending as one student has at least learned enough to realize what she’s missing, but what about all the other victims of what UD commonly calls the “PowerPoint pissoff?”

* They were disproportionately Wharton students; a.k.a. undergraduate business majors. Surprised?


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