Thursday, October 7, 2010

Young people these days..

Okay so this is not so much an informative post as a forehead-slapping, head-shaking, 'Oh-God-Why' expression of thoughts I find myself thinking on a daily basis.

As you may have picked up, I've returned to university this year after a long absence.  An absence that makes me a good decade or more older than most people in my classes.  I've never felt old before, but damn am I noticing some interesting - and really annoying - differences between "young people these days" and behaviour from back "when I was your age".

Sure, I didn't walk to university in the snow with no shoes, warming my feet in fresh cow-pats.  But when I was a fresh little out-of-high-school first-year, lecturers actually lectured - the best ones inspired and instilled passion, and seemed like intellectual demigods to be respected and aspired-to.  Alright, so perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but learning took on new dimensions for me, they were staggering, and it felt as if our lecturers were conduits to endless knowledge. It was an exciting time.

Now I am back.  Things have changed. And I don't like it.

In many of my lectures, instead of even pretending to pay attention to the lecturer, students are on their laptops Facebooking, watching  clips on YouTube, or even just talking to their friends out loud.  In the now overcrowded library, large groups of students congregate, eating hot chips or pies (OH WOW that would have been sacrilege when I was younger!), all talking at once about "OH. EM. GEE. Did you SEE what she was wearing?" "Yeah, like, what a slut!" etc etc ad nauseum.  And this is in the QUIET areas of the library!  How did this come to be?  Talking in a library was once unthinkable - and not just because of prowling librarians who would rip your head off for even sneezing!

I think the thing that shocked me the most this week was listening to some students in their early 20s - definitely not first years - making fun of our lecturer and his course before he came into the room.  Our lecturer, who has spent many years working and researching in an industry these young men want to enter, and who has years of life experience on these young (insert expletive here).  One of these young men subsequently sat on his (very expensive) cellphone for the entire class texting, checking his watch and sighing loudly every couple of minutes or so.  I considered asking him if his face would like to meet my fist.  An impossible fantasy that played out fantastically inside my head.

Interestingly enough, the same lecturer was telling us about, because of new funding allocation systems based around research outputs, emphasis on teaching - both time spent on preparing, and ability in - at the university has taken a back seat.  So much so that one lecturer, who has an exceedingly good reputation and whose classes are always full, has now lost her position as over the last few years she has focused on teaching her students rather than in personal research!

This change in focus is obvious after an absence.  It feels as if a lot of the passion and skill at public speaking has gone.  Many lectures are based on PowerPoint presentations which are sometimes read virtually ad verbatim, and then posted online.  Attending physical lectures is virtually unnecessary.  Tutorial classes are also getting bigger.  In both of my papers this semester the tutorials have so many people in them there are not enough chairs in the room to seat everyone.

Although there are notable exceptions - there really are some fantastic lecturers out there, and bright inspiring first-year students too - things have changed for the worse.  I don't think it's because I'm getting old and boring.  Well, maybe a little..  But considering the rising costs of university fees I sure would like to think I'm purchasing a learning environment and great teaching expertise - not just free WiFi and a running commentary of what some slappers did on the weekend.