Monday, November 15, 2010

One of the saddest things I have seen in the lab...

Today I am sitting in lab, and of the six students remaining only two of them seem to be actually making any effort.  I watch the two workers, and I am still frustrated by the increasing number of helpless slackers that seem to be an ever-increasing part of my labs.

Every semester I conduct problem-based learning exercises where I place students in groups of four to five.  The general pattern for most groups seems to be three of the people in the group are (A) lazy, (B) clueless, (C) apathetic, or (D) all of the above.  These slackers attempt to ride the coat tails of the more motivated students.  I have tried implementing punishments for this behavior, but nothing I do seems to work.  (I guess my only option is to walk around with a clipboard and mark them as participating or not participating.)  What's worse, the students who are now in the class are asking me to help them design a procedure that they have already done in an earlier lab!

Is this a consequence of No Child Left Behind (click here for Dr. Moon's video on the subject)?  Is this some sort of ludicrous trend in extended immaturity (If 30 is the new 20, then 20 is the new 10....)?

I am discouraged by this situation, but what is the alternative?  I could let these young people continue to wallow in a sea of disengaged anesthesia, and I'm not so arrogant enough to think that I can truly open their eyes.  Maybe they will finally grow up one day and demand more from their own children.  By this time, hopefully, the next generation will learn from their parents' apathy.

Rediscovering My Old Manifesto

Now that I have suffered through one of the most frustrating semesters of my teaching career, I have decided to revisit an idea that occurred to me in 2008. This idea is to be my manifesto of higher education. What is this idea? It's quite direct...

Confrontation shall be the sum of all education!

Does this mean that I will become an overbearing "sage on the stage", still a sad fixture within higher education?  Does this idea of confrontation mean I must adopt an adversarial attitude towards my students?  No, this idea means that I must seriously think about my role as an educator.  In order to confront the woefully inadequate preparation that too many of my students receive I can see they require three simple actions from me, to filter information, to assess basic proficiency, and to facilitate engagement.

The first two actions are relatively easy for me, since, I am considered a subject-matter expert.  I can, with a PhD in chemistry, find a myriad of real-world applications that capture the essence of different chemical concepts, and I can design challenging assessments that push my students to their intellectual limits.  The real challenge comes from the third role, facilitating engagement, a problem that many of those in my PLN (Professional Learning Network) can attest to being one of the most challenging parts of education.   

Another election...another round of funding cuts...what else is new?

Election day has come and gone this month.  A "tsunami" of anti-encumbent sentiment has swept many out of Congress, and I must now ask whether the new crowd will be helpful or harmful towards community college education.

In my own state the answer has already been handed down.  Our budgets will be decreased by another 15% when the next budget is passed.  The next round of draconian cuts promises to stretch tight budgets even tighter, despite the nearly 7% enrollment increase statewide.  Community colleges in Mississippi are now facing an uphill battle, especially with the prospect of funding being tied to graduation rates rather than just full time enrollment numbers.