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…

4 thoughts on “A STRANGE BOAST

  1. Woah… This reminds me of that time some years ago in which I spoke to one of my teachers about how amazed I was at the fact that my classmates managed to pass his literary subject without reading ANY of the books we were supposed to, just by watching the corresponding film adaptations… Yet, at least, they pretended to have read the books AND some secondary sources. So, sadly, what strikes me the most about your post is not the fact that a 4th year student hasn’t visited the library a single time, but rather that she admits it to the teacher…

  2. I’m getting very tired of hearing that everyone from 0 years old to about 25 is the internet/computer generation. They’re not, WE are (I’m 50). We were there, as adults, when it started – used it when it was still difficult and slow to use, but more to point, we have had years and years of practise. I am no longer surprised when my students show little knowledge about basic microsoft office programmes, or how to find their way around the web.

    FROM SARA, THE BLOGGER: Yes, Bill, you’re right, I stand corrected. We’re indeed the internet generation and they’re the web 2.0 generation, of which I remain more or less ignorant (I’ve seen the Fincher film at least). The question for me is that none taught us how to find our way into the main internet resources we use and now we have to teach the next generation…

  3. Well, nothing surprises me anymore. I’ve had exactly the same situations confronting students who don’t even bother to change the font from wikipedia. When I acusse them of plagiarism and of committing a crime, they look at me as if I was paranoid and didn’t have a clue about being a student. Not so long ago (2 weeks to be exact) I had a student crying top lungs in my office because she didn´t understand how it could be possible that her final mark was a 1.5 with such an easy exam, that she felt frustrated and embarrassed. Of course, she demanded a passing mark because it was not fair that her classmates had obtained good marks and she hadn’t …
    Sara, thanks for sharing, very cathartic

  4. Hi Sara,
    Just got your blog link through the AEDEAN list, great to hear from you (indirectly) and have a nose into your professional life!
    Yes, most worrying that students are managing to negotiate their way through university without setting foot in the library. I’m not sure about Spain, but I know that here in the UK there is so much emphasis on results tables and meeting targets in secondary schools that I suspect that for subjects such as English literature, students are required to parrot-learn facts and reproduce tick-box-able information, resulting in a deemphasis on developing a sense of critical analysis and learning how to develop their own arguments and insights. A great shame. So congratulations on your eagle-eye and standing up to this girl, if only more teachers questioned the system, maybe then they could really foment inquisitiveness and dynamism in students, rather than just ingraining a tick-box culture.
    Un abrazo

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