The title of this post is taken, as a sincere form of flattery, from the title of an excellent semi-recent article in the Journal of College Science Teaching (Connie Russell, November 2009, pp 84-86, subscription required). That, almost verbatim, is the text of a student email to her. There was no salutation and no signature. I’ve gotten disappointingly unprofessional emails like this — often from high school students who have read my blog on a topic and want the answers to their homework on a similar topic, or help on a science fair project. One student wrote to me, frantically demanding a resource that had been linked to a blog post on ferrofluid, but the link was broken. It was so rude that, while I answered his query, I did indicate that this was not the proper way to ask assistance of a professional.
So, why talk about students’ seeming inability to communicate properly with their professors? Because, argues Connie Russell in her article, this problem is indicative of the lack of college readiness in the current crop of students. While this is not a new problem, the nature of the problem might be changing. What has changed about students’ high-school preparation in the last ten years? Well, the increase in state-mandated testing, for one. Has “teaching to the test” reduced attention to college-readiness skills in high school? Some have suggested that creativity and critical thinking suffer under the march towards higher standardized test scores; that students may not be well-prepared for college by this shift in K12 methods.
This poor college preparation could mean a dearth of critical thinking and reasoning skills, but it can also just mean that students are ill-prepared to understand what is expected of them. And it could also mean that the “digital natives” have not been equipped to apply technological tools appropriately to support their learning. Today’s instructors did not grow up in a digital world, and so did not themselves receive instruction on how to appropriately use technology when they were students — how to properly write an email without text-speak, whether multitasking by surfing the web during class will affect their attention to course content, or how to use good internet research habits. Well, actually that last one has become the purview of the school librarian, bless their souls, but it’s not clear who should be responsible for helping students learn how to best use many other technologies in education.
So, who should be responsible for helping the digital natives integrate technology into their education? The faculty teaching introductory courses should, it seems. Not only are these faculty responsible for introducing freshmen to their discipline, but they are introducing freshmen to the world of college. One of the goals of college instruction should be that a student becomes an expert learner — that they learn how to learn — or how to be metacognitive in their approach to their education. Or, as Russell concludes:
If we want students to meet our expectations, we must give them instruction on what we expect.
That includes the use of technology, such as the internet, email, and clickers. In fact, one of the most common failure of clicker users that I’ve seen is to fail to explain to students why they’re introducing this technology, and how they expect students to engage with it. It’s also important, too, to make it clear — to yourself and your students — just what your learning goals are for the class. And if you’re using technology, how it relates to those goals. Technology isn’t used just to keep students awake, but to further your goals in class. One possible resource of interest – Ten Top Tips for Teaching with New Media (Edutopia, free registration required).
So, while it’s easy to roll your eyes at such inept emails, it’s worth a moment to pause and consider: Is this a symptom of a larger breach in the college-readiness of students and their use of technology? If so, consider making your expectations of students explicit — and giving them a chance to become more expert learners.
Image from University of Salford on Wikimedia