Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why People at College Misery Are so Miserable

For those of you who don't know, College Misery is a collectively run blog where academics whine about how horrible their lives are. There are so many fantastic things about our profession that I always felt completely baffled by the intense unhappiness of these folks. 

Well, now the mystery is solved. These people hate academia because they are completely ignorant about the most basic concepts of their profession. I just read a post where a confused academic asks for explanation of the term "student-centered teaching." Another confused academic responds with the following gibberish:
Student-centered puts the onus on the faculty to provide some sort of "positive learning" experience for the student. It's about subverting the subject matter / proficiency basis with a self esteem ra ra bullshit happy student experience. This approach is based on either a false intellectual peer model where students are viewed as the pedagogical equals of faculty or a cynical, corrupt service model where students buy a happy outcome.
I teach language and literature, so all of my teaching is of necessity student-centered. Of course, there is nothing about the way I teach that the above-quoted unintelligent comment tries to insinuate. Everything is much simpler and a lot less eerie. Teacher-centered learning is the kind where the professor stands in front of the classroom and delivers a lecture. The students listen and take notes.

Student-centered learning is to teaching-centered learning what Modernist art is to Realist art. Students are not expected to be passive recipients of the teacher's attempts to explain the universe to them. They are supposed to work as hard as the professor in the classroom. Group activities, class discussions, etc. help involve students into an active process of learning.

It's always easy to bitch about how academia is unfair and you are overworked and unappreciated. It's a little harder to recognize that your own extremely low competence makes you a pariah in academia.


fairykarma said...

The funny thing is, you mentioned group activities, class discussions etc., and the only time I've done those things the majority of the time is during online classes where the teacher is virtually absent. Since there is no formal lecture in this environment, the students are mostly by themselves and they tackle and discuss the material, ask each other questions, reply to each other. The teacher will come in here and there to answer questions and enter discussions as well.

I may be alone in this but after I took online classes, I almost cry whenever I have to attend a physical lecture because they seem so primitive in comparison. Online, you can talk as much as want, get to read EVERYONE'S opinions. I used to think quiet people in a class were idiots; in restrospect, they were smart and their reticence saved them much emotional turmoil. As a young adult in my early twenties, I hate raising my hand to give my opinion. I hate waiting my turn to talk in group work. I hate it when a class group takes the wrong direction on something despite a few members, sometimes one, warning otherwise. I hate it when the class has to be monopolized by the those few idiots that ask completely pointless questions. Sometimes, there are interesting tangents to be explored, but nope, stick the schedule, stick to the schedule. How oppressive. Sometimes, I just don't like the teacher. Perhaps there's something about their personality or personal beliefs that really irks me. I had one professor that mentioned God an awful lot. What does God have to do with kidney function? I don't invoke my trivial godlessness when I'm answering questions in class, do I? Some professors really do enjoy terrorizing a class.

Aside from the genius history professor I once mentioned on here, I never get the same euphoria in a physical class than when I'm online where I'm relatively free. The time limit is usually a week. During that time, we can talk about anything related to the subject. Once I graduate, I'll starve before I attend another classroom again.

Besides, there's something downright awesome about attending class in pajamas.

Clarissa said...

This is a very interesting comment to me. I might be working on creating an online course in the near future, so it's great to hear from somebody who has a positive perception of such classes.

Many students say that online classes make them feel lonely and lost. Do you ever feel this way in online classes? is the instructor doing anything special to avoid such issues?


fairykarma said...

1. That may have to do with personality. I'm introverted so I don't necessarily need to see other people's faces to make connections in an online class. My mum for example likes to talk to people directly and therefore doesn't like online classes.

2. Another factor is that online gives you a lot of freedom. This freedom can hurt you or help you. Basically the student controls how much interaction they can have with other students. Whereas in a classroom, the teacher controls the interaction. I feel the reason a student might feel lost in such a case is because they do the minimum required posting. The professors never want to seem "evil" but they do tacitly imply that one post as much as they can. Go way beyond the minimum. My very first online class, I did do the minimum and barely read or replied to others. The process felt very artificial. I was actually at the same time on vacation in Boston so that may have had something to do with it! But in future classes, I made sure to log in everyday for about 10 minutes instead of postponing to the end of the week.

I think you should talk to colleagues and see if there is a correlation between students who post the most and their final grades. I would like to think they are positively correlated.

In many cases, I found students answering other students' questions even before the professor.

The teacher, as always, makes themselves available through the email system as well as office hours.

But then again, I don't think I'm saying anything new. Participation has always been a golden law of academia. And an online classs is really just a 24/7 study group that allows limitless participation.

Clarissa said...

I agree completely about participation. I'm hoping that this format will allow students who have a lot to say but are shy to contribute more in an online format. It's got to be easier when you express yourself online. At least, I hope so.

I'm finding the things you shared in these comments to be extremely useful.

brittanyannwick said...

Two things made a class for me:

1) Student involvement. I loved discussions. I loved them more when it wasn't forced (i.e. participation grade-motivated or group discussions). Professors that went back and forth with students made it even better.

2) Professors that would call students on their shit. Whether that would be disrespectful behavior or stupid commentary, it always made me warm and fuzzy inside, and it made me feel like a professor cared whether or not the students were focused and learning the correct things.