An angry student comes to my office to tell me how badly I do my job because, in her view, her paper has been unfairly awarded an appallingly low grade. Yes, a 2 is low indeed. I agree.
As the temperature in the room rises I try explain to her, not as calm as I would like to be, that the 2 corresponds to the fact that even though the exercise is designed to teach students to integrate proper academic secondary sources into their papers, in hers there’s not a single quotation (some from the primary sources, yes). She then points out that the paper does include a bibliography but when I answer back that her sources are all inadequate (SparkNotes and similar non-academic websites exclusively) and that she clearly has not used the library, as we expected, she argues defiantly that she’s a working student and has no time to use the library. When I point out that the library opens on Saturday and has extended opening hours during the exam period, she boasts to my face that in the four years she’s been a university student she’s never been there and has managed to pass all her subjects satisfactorily. I feebly point out that I don’t understand how she can show off about this but, clearly, she still thinks it an oddity that a university teacher expects university students to use the library.
If you’re curious to know, I volunteered to have the student’s exercise assessed by another Literature teacher, who concurs with my own assessment. Yet, this is not my point today. My point is that I’m appalled that a student defending his or her work from a teacher’s criticism can actually boast about not using the library, when this is the whole point of the exercise she had submitted. How this can help generate a good mood for reviewing the paper is beyond me. Also, and most importantly, this student’s attitude tells volumes about what many students understand by a university education: just passing subjects, not at all learning. My other point is that there are shortcuts for those who can’t find their way into the library: a judicious use of the academic online resources that we do show how to use in class yields plenty of useful bibliography. There are many good journal articles out there for free and even complete books, but, to my surprise most students seem unable to find them despite the alleged internet proficiency of the younger generations.
So, here’s my message: it’s not so difficult to trick a Literature teacher into believing that a paper has been wholly researched at the library. What would irk any of my colleagues, I want to believe, is this strange, ugly boast that a university library has no place in a university education.
PS If you’re following the saga, I finally got a fully equipped classroom for my theatre subject!! Sadly, I had to waste time and energy and pester a vice-dean…