Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do We Have it Harder than our Parents? Part II

Last week I argued that us university students have it harder than our parents did.

This week, it’s time to face facts. We’re lazy; always have been. We grew up being able to get our information, our entertainment, our everything from our computers. We can use our devices to shop, play games, talk to friends, listen to music, apply for jobs, plan our finances, and read our mail. All this, without having to move an inch.

The twisted part is, U of T enables us. It sends us convenient emails about upcoming events, it posts news and course announcements and grades onto convenient websites. We can conveniently drop old courses and enrol in new ones, switch our majors, change the very direction of our lives, online. It’s all so convenient.

In The University of Google, media professor Tara Brabazon criticizes the state of university in the technological age. “As each semester progresses,” she writes, “a greater proportion of my students is reading less, referencing less, and writing with less clarity and boldness…. This group invariably writes assignments in the days before they are due, runs a spell checker through the document rather than drafts it, and relies on the internet for research material rather than course readings.” The rise of the internet, according to Brabazon, encourages poor academic achievement: the laziness of research extends to laziness in writing and editing, laziness in all aspects of academia.

Brabazon shares an anecdote in which a student approaches her after lecture, and says that she hasn’t been able to access her course readings from home. “When, with raised eyebrow, I stated that the further readings were books and articles sitting on the shelves of the library, [the student] became exasperated: ‘You mean I have to go into the library and get them?’”

That last sentence demonstrates the problem of university in the technological age: we’re used to instant access, instant gratification, instant results—anything that doesn’t play by those rules is an annoying exception.

Not that the decrease in academic performance has affected our grades. A study of Ontario universities concluded that GPAs have overwhelmingly increased in arts and science classes from 1974 to 1994. A higher percentage of students got As and Bs, and fewer got Cs, Ds, and Fs.

This is a concept known as “grade inflation,” a continuous problem in universities across the U.S. and Canada. If any professor tries to break the pattern and assign lower grades, they risk decreased enrollment in their classes and a loss of promotion or tenure because of negative course evaluations. The cycle ensures that students can receive increasingly better grades for increasingly poorer work.

Finally, university students are working less nowadays, according to a study by Babcock and Marks (2011). Between 1961 and 2003, the average hours per week students spend studying and going to class has fallen from 40 to 27. Whether this is due to technological advances or falling standards is hard to say.

All of these facts show an uncomfortable truth. We might whine about the scarcity of jobs, the rising competition and tuition rates, the high complexity of modern life, but the truth is that we suck. We are generally less capable and less patient, used to a world in which almost anything we want can be accessed from a computer. Universities enable and encourage the short-attention-span generation, and it’s for this reason that we’ve got it easier.

1 comment:

  1. Excuse my reply but I find that there's no good arguments throughout this article.

    Just because there're more distractions in this era doesn't mean the previous generation are more focused. Since mindless entertainment is becoming more accessible, it doesn't affect the students but also the work force -- students from previous generation. (probably more focused students since they got a job)

    From a perspective of a math / comp sci student, grade inflation doesn't occur. The exams are fixed to the appropriate difficulty that guarantees the class mean to stay in the 60 - 70 range for a class size that has 50+ enrolment. Further more, most intelligent employers don't care about the numerical value of your GPA. They care more about the difference between your GPA and the average GPA.

    With knowledge becoming more accessible, homework assignments are usually more difficult than before so the students learn not only learn about the class materials, but also learn how to utilize existing technologies more efficiently.

    Using the same argument I can argue that all CS students sucks compare to the previous generation because we don't need to program in COBOL or Fortran which forces us to program in a higher clarity. This generation will fail the tech. industry miserably because making web pages and apps are so much easier than code for some embedded device in some specific dialect of a assembly language which is gradually becoming obsolete.

    There're many soft skills that university doesn't teach, like how to handle hard work, be motivated, persistence, ect. So usually the students who know how to handle hard work succeed in all courses while student who have difficulty "getting it" do poorly throughout and graduated with little improvement.


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