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.)

"Sir?"

"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?