Thursday, March 4, 2010

Barb from Batavia Wants To Know How Much She's Supposed to Bend? Uh, All the Way, Right?

How far are we expected to go? Bend backwards. Keep bending until your head is level with your ass. Now stick it up there. Keep pushing. Eventually you'll end up in the La-La Land in which our administrators live. It's a happy candy colored place, where unicorns cavort with snowflakes and individual personal experience trumps any expectation of actually knowledge.

I've just returned from a trip there.

This semester, I threw away my textbook. The students had complained about it since I began teaching the course: the book was too dense, too simplistic, too expensive, too heavy, too biased, not pretty enough, etc. Whatever the complaint, it was clear they didn't like it. So, in order to show my "responsivness to student's needs," I PDF'd everything I wanted to use. Found new articles talking about the same things. Uploaded video clips and photo slideshows. (An aside: bless you, library workers, who tirelessly battled the dragons of copyright law on my behalf. May you be sainted.)

On the first day of class, the students cheered! No book! Think of how much pot that $45 could buy! They can do their readings on their iPhones! I was briefly a hero, for the students and for the administration. I was nominated for a teaching award! I skipped happily through the first two weeks of the semester, enjoying the sparkles and gumdrops.

And....turns out, the students aren't reading. Nope. Not on their computers, not on their phones. (No one even brings their phone to class. Hey, if cell phones are a problem for you? Try this.) Seriously, only one third of the class has ever even logged on to the online system, and out of that fraction only half even other clicking the links. In the interest of transparency, I told them that I'd be tracking their activity, but they didn't care. Still don't, despite threatening e-mails about dire participation grades. Despite warnings about how this material will, indeed, be on the midterm. Despite a class average of D on the pop quizzes.

And yesterday, Student Snowflake e-mailed Chair Snowflake, who called me onto the carpet. "I'm really concerned," said Chair Snowflake. "You've never had a single complaint against you. Now students are saying you are mean and constantly critical. What's changed in *your* life?"

I filled her in with the information, showed her the printed reports of no activity. She looked them over with a frown.

"Well, it's not like this is any different than past years, is it?" she said. "The only thing is, now you know for sure they're not reading. You can't punish them for that."

La-La Land doesn't smell like candy and roses any more, let me tell you. It's got the distinctive scent of BS.