Issues > Concerns > Problems

I have been debating whether to post this “rant” or not. Obviously, you know what I finally decided. Those who pay attention to detail should note that I first drafted this post in early 2011. Yes, 2011 – as in 4 years ago. It is now 2015 and I have decided that it is worth airing.

Perhaps it is my middle aged mind kicking in and being a curmudgeon. Perhaps it is a valid observation. Over the past months/ years, I have observed a change in a fair number of students in many of my classes. Those who know me know that I don’t just teach at one community college in central Illinois so these observations go beyond one school.

My observation is the following – it seems that many students (obviously not all, but sizable number) now seem to want everything handed to them. By this I mean that there is no desire to search out a solution. I can’t count the number of times I receive an email with a question that could easily have been solved with a simple search engine query.

There is no desire to take a couple of examples and stitch them together in a new way to solve a given problem. It seems like some expect a step by step explanation (complete with the finished assignment that can be turned in for credit). Yes, there have always been a few in this camp, but it seems that many more are joining (at least more recently). If you really expect me to do all your work for you, why don’t I just apply for the job you seek and then hand the paycheck over to you? Sure, that is going to happen. The check is already in the mail. Yes, I am being sardonic. If you don’t know what sardonic means… look… it… up…

I am curious if others have also observed this (or am I way off base). If I am on target at all, I fear this does not bode well for graduates entering the business world. Having worked in various industries (as well as government), I have always observed that those who rapidly (and creatively) solve problems on their own are the ones who go much further. This is a behavior I plan to help students develop this year.

As we start 2015, I ask the following of students – BEFORE sending me an email, have you done the following?

  • used a search engine to answer your question?
  • looked at online video to see if there is a step by step explanation (if you really need one)?
  • applied a rule of reasonableness to the answers you have found (to verify that it is not some “wing nut” providing a less than stellar piece of work)?
  • asked a peer via the course discussion forum?

It is imperative you make an effort to find solutions to your questions on your own. There will come a time (sooner than you think) where you won’t be able to ask your professor for the answer. Develop the necessary skills to succeed and thrive in business on your own.

8 thoughts on “Issues > Concerns > Problems”

  1. I think you are right on target Mark. However, its not just your students. Imagine the millions of adults who decided not to go to college to further their education, because why? They think that life will hand them everything they desire.

    I find this actually exists still among the people who somehow got into a job, and they are still, for lack of a better word, lazy. One of my biggest fears in life is to become stagnant. I never want to stop learning, I want to continue to always poke the box, push the boundaries and move forward. How is this lost on my generation and those under me?

    I digress. Thanks for sharing this Mark. While in your classes (and after) you have certainly been an inspiration to me.

  2. I think that is a valuable lesson to teach. To teach students how to teach themselves is under-looked and under-valued. The only way to succeed in the industry is knowing how to look up the answers and pull out what you need, or even searching a tutorial(as you mentioned). Last case scenario would be to join an IRC channel for the language you need help with and ask help there. If you have to get help in the IRC though, you will know that you are not competent in the language yet. I do it sometimes, but with shame. But that should be the question they should ask, “do you want to be competent in X or just pass the course?”

  3. I would also like to add, knowing how to ask the question is just as important as finding the answer. In order to look up an answer correctly, one must be able to explain in human language what is exactly going wrong. That takes some experience to know that. Its better to say “why isn’t jQuery accepting this value type that I am extracting from SQL” versus “I dont understand why this isnt working”.

    Source: A lesson I learned the hard way.

  4. @kevin I think that is part of Mark’s point, people are not taking the initiative to even consider “what is the right question”. Instead they are holding up their hands and saying “help me”.

  5. Mark, I am in the company of your misery. As in another comment, I don’t think the experience you have is limited to the classroom (in whatever realm) and students. I’ll admit I have moments of laziness but for the most part I believe that if something needs to get done or if I need to learn something, it’s my job to do it and do it to the best of my ability. We try to teach critical thinking and problem solving in our curricula but maybe what we’re missing is inspiration via curiosity? I am not sure how to teach that, but I do think it’s a remedy for some of the apathy we see!

  6. “Inspiration via curiosity” – I like it. In fact, I am presently taking a digital creativity course and that happens to be my theme (the inspiration part) for all my assignments. I may modify my work a bit to reflect curiosity. Many thanks for sharing.
    Best always,

  7. Mark, in both our childhoods (the simple innocent times of land lines and rotary phones), our schoolwork required us to make frequent trips to the library to look up information to complete reports and solve problems. This was mostly because the Time-Life catalog and Encyclopedia Britannica did not meet the need. This was a daunting task back then because it required reading loads of non-relevant information in order to find a modicum of relevant information. But it also required some physical exercise. You had to get your behind up and get there before closing. And some of us had to walk both ways uphill and in the snow. Now, you can do it all while sitting in a chair, or bed, hammock or car. With all this information at our fingertips (literally), we’ve become (and we are now creating more of) physically and mentally lazy and disconnected people. Despite the fact we are more productive than ever. Also, In our parental efforts to make things easier for our kids than it was for us, as we all are guilty of, we feed them an extra helping of entitlement. My ADA professor back in 1988 opened his class with the acronym “TANSTAFL” and he asked us all what we though it stood for. We all tried and failed to make anything of it for a while and he finally revealed that it stood for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. And even though he told us what it meant, he made us think about it and be creative. And he was right. That phrase stuck with me since then and in the 25 years I’ve been in IT, I always refer back to it when I face a tough coding problem. Fight the good fight sir, and do your best to make a difference. BTW, I was in the Peoria Camera Club group you talked to recently. Even though I am not an Apple anything user, I found the talk very interesting.

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