Monday, September 21, 2009

The 21st Century Degree

Last summer, my students impressed me with their creative use of Youtube and Google to teach themselves Blender, Synfig, and other open source software I couldn't teach them. Video tutorials went a long way in getting them started with new and unfamiliar tools.

With the batch this semester, well, let's just say that I'm less than pleased with their methods.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a master of the Google search myself, and learning would be much more difficult without all those free Internet resources. But it's one thing to use Google as a guide and quite another to surrender your judgment entirely.

Case in point: in one of the steps in our lab exercises, I asked the students to copy a file, via command-line, from one directory to another. It was a simple procedure I had already drilled them in during past exercises, or so I thought. And then I saw one student type in the Google search bar:

"How do I copy a file from one directory to another?"

I can only imagine that at some point, the question will become "How do I put my pants on in the morning?" See accompanying video in Youtube.

I still might grant that student a little leeway, considering that Unix commands seem esoteric to the uninitiated; perhaps he just needed a little help to jog his memory. In fact, it seems positively minor to the last report another student made.

Now, as far as facilities go, there's no lack in presentation resources in my department. Every classroom is equipped with an overhead LCD projector, conveniently connected to a standby PC. There's nothing to keep a student from turning out a good report, except maybe themselves.

Unfortunately, my students this sem have a tendency to read everything off the screen, with matching monotone; or if not that, reading verbatim from hand-scribbled yellow pad, also in matching monotone. Do they really understand what they're saying? I'm not so sure.

Which leads me back to the culprit I introduced earlier. After taking the class through several pages worth of monotone performance, she finally reached the part where she flashed on screen instructions on how to configure this particular software. I felt I just had to interrupt.

"Liebchen! Sprechen Sie Deutsche?" (Don't be too impressed; all my German comes from the Indiana Jones movies.)


"I said: do you speak German?"

"Uh, no...."

"Then why is your configuration example in German?!"

Sigh. Welcome to education in the Internet age, where students don't take up BS in Information Technology, or BS in Computer Science, or BS in What-Have-You; no, they're all taking up BS in Google, with a Major in Cut-and-Paste and a Minor in Facebook. Hmmm, or was that the other way around?


  1. I would surmise that the problem is not the course, the topic or the teaching. From your posts, it's probably attitudinal.

    There is this nagging thought that most of us who have gone through schools have had the nightmarish tendency to get through it, just get the grade and walk out.

    The skill/attitude that all schools - no, all of us - must develop is the love for learning and learning for all our lives.

  2. But which is worse, Dom, your student or this teacher I know?

    FYI, I'm a student assistant assigned in the Internet Lab. housed inside the H.S. Lib. My job as an S.A is, well, to assist Internet users---students, teachers, co-SAs.

    One time, a teacher asked for my assistance.

    "Paki-print ko ani Vin," said the teacher, pointing to the info on the screen.

    I scanned it for a while, then followed his instruction.

    As I hand the printout to him, I asked, "Para sa asa diay na, Sir?"

    "Para sa akong masterial," he said.

    "Ah, I see."

    When the teacher went out of the lab, I chuckled because the info he got came from as his source of info for his masteral?

    Now going back to the question: which is worse, Dom, your student or this teacher I know?

  3. Arvin: Heh, students like mine become teachers like yours, unless there's intervention early on. On a more serious note: I'm more concerned how a masteral student can get away with something like that. At the MS level, a teacher should ask more complex questions.

    Jun: the root of the problem goes back to how we teach our students in grade school and high school. I think our educational system is process-oriented rather than goal-oriented. But maybe more on that in a future blog post.

  4. It's probably too much to expect that all your future students will be like your first sem students.

    The question in my mind is what an educator can do to correct the problem effectively when he/she encounters students such as yours ?

  5. i dont quite understand the problem...

    is it coz:
    1) their presentation style is monotone?

    so the solution is public speaking/presentation Power point improvements

    2) answers come from the internet?

    and i dont understand why thats a problem... since info from the internet is as good as anywhere, especially if you test it vs other sources...

    if i understand, the key issue in education is understanding... do students understand (vs rote/memorization)...? this is a problem for any medium where information is taken from, i.e. books, encyclopedias, etc...

  6. @Gabby:

    the key issue in education is not only understanding but also getting the information right.

    in educ., we have this what we call Bloom's taxonomy, where the first level of learning is knowledge; comprehension/understanding, second; application, third; analysis, fourth; synthesis, fifth; evaluation, sixth.

    now before the students proceed to understanding, they must have a solid grasp of knowledge. and that knowledge should come from a reliable source.


    if i read dom's post right, the main issue at hand is that his students, aside from giving a monotonous presentation, are using Google unscrupulously.

    As Dom put it, "it's one thing to use Google as a guide and quite another to surrender your judgment entirely."

  7. @arvin

    so the problem is that the internet is unreliable? that its sometimes wrong?

    if so, then yes. but books can be wrong too.


    is the problem that students get lazy to memorize stuff if they have internet access?

    if so, isn't this the promise of 24/7 connectivity? we have the world's knowledge at our fingertips? isn't the fact that we can use the internet to answer all these questions a good thing? isnt that the purpose of computers -- so we dont have to memorize stuff we don't want to memorize and we can call up this information whenever we need it?

  8. By reliable I don't mean only books. There are reliable sources in the internet, too.

    What I'm trying to say is that whatever sources you're using---it be Internet or book---you should be scrupulous: meaning do not accept everything in it as a gospel truth.