Students need understanding from lecturers

July 26, 2018

I hope that the author of “The age of entitlement” (Features, 19 July), which upbraids millennials for shirking responsibility for their learning, has a few months for reflection during her Fulbright fellowship. During her time away, she might become less irritated by the dress and behaviours of some of her students. On the one hand, she appears to understand the constraints that debt and significant hours of paid work place on students; on the other hand, she condemns the kind of anxious student constructed by the underfunded, marketised university.

Students arrive at university with their expectations of education formed by their experience at school. There, they are told that progress is made rather in the way of operant conditioning – by modifications to work in response to feedback. The idea of exercising independent academic judgement seems to pose a severe risk in what students find to be a high-stakes situation. It is hardly surprising that they seem tutor-dependent. But usually in their final year, they present an idea and a project design that they have originated, and you smile as you witness the development of another autonomous learner.

I, too, have occasionally vented frustration at students whose sense of panic seems to occlude productive engagement with scholarship. However, I would have hoped that a professor of linguistics would have had greater appreciation of the different generational norms and signifiers. It is your job to meet students where they are, not where you are. You must have the sympathy and insight to translate expressions of “stress” and “confusion” as requests for clarification and reassurance. And frankly, even as a former linguistics lecturer myself, I would struggle with an instruction to “analyse a lexical item”. Lexical items have a social, historical and linguistic context. Is this what she means?

A lecturer’s career might extend over several decades. You can’t expect to encounter just those students who share your demographic characteristics and your experience. I will always be grateful for the older colleague who took me aside early in my career and told me, “These students need education.” That enabled me to shift perspective and recall that I was there to support the needs of students, not to focus on my own.

Liz Morrish aka Divaswimmer

I agree with some of this article. I do find that students do tend not to take it on themselves to delve into the library and do their own research. They tend to sit back and want to be fed information. However, this is not necessarily the individual student’s fault – it’s a sign of the times. Information is accessed differently now: all students need is Google to do their homework/coursework. Perhaps we need to look at the school system and try to prepare students for university better – and to appreciate better what background in learning and researching new undergraduates have.

We can then think about how best to help them learn. Has the author thought about outlining the lesson plan in her first lecture? She could also consider delivering some direction for key skills, such as critical thinking, performing literature reviews and the like.


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