Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reasons to Feel Sorry for Students Sometimes

dogwoods, in bloom near the gym

It's high research paper season again, and I continue to be impressed by the variety of ways that students can misunderstand things. Maybe that sounds snarky, but I mean it sincerely. For example,

-A Web Site Is a Web Site is a Web Site

Displayed on a computer monitor, a free web site can look identical to a subscription-based journal article, or a page of an e-book. It's all on the internet, and unless a student is scrupulous about figuring out exactly what s/he is looking at, it's just another web page.

I suppose this becomes another argument in support of books, because with a self-contained physical object there are more clues about what it is, whereas an out-of-context link may require some analysis...

-Does catering to unique learning styles encourage people to avoid challenging themselves?

It is interesting and occasionally useful to know how a person 'best' learns (I'm referring to Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences here), but there are many situations where students have no choice about how they learn something -- they simply must. If a student arrives at college where a professor has certain immutable expectations for how a student learns something, and if these vary from what a student thrives under, I'm not sure how learning theory helps. (Only, when students go to study independently they might understand how to teach themselves? This requires very self-reflective students.)

-Web 2.0 may prove to be just another niche in the diffusion of information thing I was talking about last week.

As geeked as I am about Web 2.0 (look at this fashion site where you can clip things from the web and make them into a collage, for instance!), sometimes new technology just ends up being another skill to learn, another tool to add to the arsenal, another time suck. Rather than making the picture clearer, for some it may instead muddy a learning process.

It's true that my experiences with students skew toward those who are struggling, and many may not have difficulties with these things at all. Or, perhaps a lot of them are struggling and don't say anything.

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