As I wrote about last spring, it’s always a little disconbobulating adjusting my expectations for the academic world today as compared to how it operated when I was an undergrad. When I was finally finishing up my bachelor’s degree, e-mail was just beginning to become a form of staying in touch with your instructors and other students. Today, e-mail is often the primary form of out-of-class communication. IUPUI has, and I imagine most schools do, a rather formal method for putting classroom resources on-line called Oncourse. You log in and all of your classes are listed. Under each class you can find the syllabus, assignments, materials your instructor hands out in class, class-specific chat rooms and message boards, and a “drop box” which is an electronic in-box where you can submit assignments electronically. It’s all pretty cool, but since I wasn’t enrolled in the class I sat in on last spring (I was enrolled in a graduate research course), I didn’t get to really experience the system. This semester, though, I am able to use Oncourse for both of my classes. If I’ve learned one thing from three weeks of navigating the system, it’s that students really never change.
For my media law class we had an assignment due this past Wednesday. We were to read a decision from the Washington Supreme Court regarding a law that banned video games that depicted violence against law enforcement officers from being sold to minors. Our professor passed the assignment out in class the previous Wednesday, but also posted those questions and the reading material onto Oncourse. When I logged in on Tuesday, I was alerted that there were several unread discussion messages. I accessed the message board and scrolled through a series of “What are the questions?” and “Where is the reading?” questions. It seems that regardless of how technology changes the academic experience (i.e. you can realistically miss class but never miss an assignment as long as it’s posted) undergrads still wait until the last minute to do things and then panic. I would expect that all of these kids are much better versed in how to use Oncourse and more in the habit of checking it than I am. Yet, I was still able to find all the materials after a quick series of clicks. Not sure why these kids were missing it.
My favorite message, though, was one from a student that said something like, “I have the reading and the questions, but I don’t understand them????” Like I posted last week, the readings were a bit dry and full of legalese. But if you stuck with them, reread things you didn’t understand, and focused, you could start to make sense of the decision. And I say this as a sleep-deprived father who’s always looking for an excuse to nap. The questions were pretty straight forward, so I’m not sure what this kid’s problem was. “How did the court rule?” isn’t that difficult to decipher.
Anyway, this all reminded me of a class I took late in my undergrad career when I was going back and filling in those slots in my liberal arts portfolio I had missed (or withdrawn/flunked at my first pass). I was a 24 year-old in a class full of 18 year olds. They cracked me up with their innocence and nonchalance about school. One kid in particular was always great entertainment. Despite the fact even quizzes were carefully labeled on the syllabus, he was prone to shout, “Dude! We have a quiz today?!?!” when our instructor asked us to close our books and clear our desks. Cheap entertainment.