Wednesday, December 17, 2008

i have the audacity to actually keep posting!!!

has anyone considered that "catching students at cheating" is ritualistic (i.e., Merton's ritualism) behavior? have we not lost sight of what teaching in general and sociology in particular are about? and since when did students become the enemy and/or a population that we need to be on guard of? are students really that different than any other population of people? i learned that lesson quickly when working with felony probationers; really not that much of a difference between them and others.

curious, the derision that students are afforded by many; almost as if there is a distinction between a "good" student and a "bad" student...where in my sociological training did i miss out on the notion that MORE categorization and ranking of peoples is a good thing? i understand the "in defense of elitism" attitude, but i much prefer those that embrace such an ideology to be upfront about it rather than masquerade as caring educators.

"catching students cheating" is not about education, it is about preserving an institutional relationship that is more reflective of the 19th century than the 21st. or at the very least, more reflective of elementary school than college. truly a bizarre notion, really.
i hate it when i can't shut up

the world is tanking and academics are worried about plagiarism...

i haven't been following this thread that closely as i sometimes do as my semester has been ending and student plagiarism was not on my mind. so i don't know if anyone has offered this idea yet, but has anyone considered offering assignments that are difficult to plagiarize? it seems quite clear that threat of punishment, actual punishment, clarifying "how to write a scholarly paper, " etc., are efforts that are not working. why continue to create division between students and faculty by providing opportunities to plagiarize? it is obvious they will continue to do so when presented with an opportunity. why not develop assignments where plagiarism is virtually impossible?

second subversive someone else noted, this is indicative of the trend starting with Napster...why pay when you don't have to? why exert the effort to recreate what has already been done by someone else? this is not a trend that is going away anytime soon. i think that to the extent that we see ourselves as a bastion of morality, we are not going to connect with students. note that i am not saying that we should encourage plagiarism; rather what i am saying is that if what we are doing is not working, why not try something entirely different?

simple intervention (borrowed from the psychologists; something called spitting in the soup) the beginning of the semester, simply ask students how many of them are planning on cheating during the semester? get them to do a show of hands (I have done this and hands were raised). great opportunity to discuss consequences (not just institutional, but real life). similarly, before assigning a paper, ask how many are planning on just cutting and pasting from Wikipedia? tell them that you are not interested in regurgitation (i prefer a term that they can understand, so i just say, "puke") nor are you interested in their ability to utilize a search engine (unless, of course you are...). of course before doing this, you MUST know what it is you are interested in; of course, this latter point begs the question..."what IS the purpose of writing papers?"

is it not odd that we spend a considerable amount of time and effort in ensuring that we maintain this unproductive division between us and students? i got tired of the "gotcha" game when i was in college. i only like to do it now when i have some entitled kid who is damn sure that s/he is going to pass simply because they pout and sputter quite a bit.
it's the schooling, damnit 2

was thinking more about this yesterday (a bad habit of mine...thinking about things) and i know that this will sound heretical (i prefer the term honest), but really what we are trying to do with our students, at least in terms of getting them to think critically, is resocialize them. i find that i have to contend with years of conditioning about world, self (mentioning the distinction between brain and mind -- how many students, let alone professors, eagerly embrace the news that mind does not exist? unsettling, yes, but that is what the empirical data indicate), economics, politics, etc. it's almost as if we say, "okay, you know all that crap you've learned about virtually everything in life? yeah, well most of it is mythology, propaganda, and most importantly, dead wrong...welcome to sociology!!!" seems like a real waste of time to "educate" students about the world for 12 years and then when they hit college tell them what is really up. and those twelve years of "learning" are not comprised of mere content, they represent at least 18 years of social conditioning...and we are supposed to get them to think critically in a semester or two??? something wrong with this picture.

anyway, here comes the heresy...maybe we need to learn some of the strategies that are used in total institutions to resocialize people since this seems to be the business that many of us are in. having worked in an institution of that sort, i know how effective they can be. so...classroom as total institution...interesting idea...?
it's the schooling, damnit!!!

i was reflecting on the seeming differences between student learning in soc courses and student learning in the natural sciences (for example). my observation is that successful student learning in soc represents increased awareness about the social world, the relationships between individuals and collectivities (how narrowly or broadly they may be defined), and the impact of systematic categorization and ranking of peoples on those very same people. it would seem that in the other sciences, there is much more emphasis on memorization of material and less emphasis on any specific expectation of an increase in personal awareness about the world (granted, there is increased awareness of how material objects work, their properties, etc.). in other words, the other sciences focus more on content and less on changing thinking.

i suspect that this presumed difference is characterized in sociology by terms such as "increased critical thinking ability" or "evidence of obtaining a sociological imagination;" indeed, these are fit characterizations. what they seem to gloss over, however, are the institutionalized challenges that those of us who teach sociology must face. for instance, it appears to me that much of public schooling (elementary, middle, junior HS and HS) trains one to do fairly well at memorization (natural science approach) and provides little or no training to increase awareness of self in relation to others. as such, when students hit college and they take their first soc course, they might find it intellectually challenging (i certainly hope that they do) as i suspect that most teaching sociologists are not as concerned about students memorizing sociological terms as much as developing that soc imagination/critical thinking. having little or no experience in employing these skills, students are oftentimes confused about "what we want" as professors. of course, what "we want" is for them to think differently; not knowing that it is possible or desirable for them to do this (nor knowing HOW to do this), they may flounder. not necessarily a bad initial outcome, but one that can be stressful.

not wanting this to turn into a monograph, i guess my main point is that it seems to me that we have a much bigger task than perhaps other sciences do in terms of student learning. our goal is to (in some, if not most cases) reverse/change years of reinforced thinking about self and others. yes, we do this through presentation of "facts" and data; but many of our facts and data run counter to what most people are taught (just think of social construction of just about anything, but most especially gender and race, for example). most students will not be "surprised" to learn how a cell functions, but think about how they might respond when (if) they truly grasp how they function, e.g., the notion that we have no permanent self; that who we are, what we think, what we do, etc., are all conditional. suddenly, observations about how an item of intellectual interest functions (like a cell or a human being) becomes very personal. and, as noted, students usually do not associate personal with academics (with the exception of grades, of course).