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Blurring boundaries April 20, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Students.

center   Nancy Willard, the Director of The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, wrote to a list upon which I lurk about a topic that has been tickling the edge of my consciousness recently. She referred to an article in Time about what college professors are saying about incoming students. According to the article, social boundaries between professor and student are eroding.

I am not convinced that students should not try to breach some of these boundaries. I have met many students who have benefited from being able to reach out to me and to my colleagues when they need academic assistance. I have found that sharing my own frustrations and thinking about issues has helped students to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a scholar, what it means to be a teacher, and what it means to juggle parenting with life in the academe.

I have also found that students do not spend much time asking me simple and mundane questions about day-to-day life at university for the simple reason that I have no time to answer such questions. Students regularly ask me about the best place to take computers for repair or to purchase software, but I expect such questions in my position. My answers are one of two or three that I give out almost daily. I do not have time to socialize and my students, for the most part, understand that.

Therefore, when Ms. Willard asks if we “are we raising a new generation of youth who are addicted to multitasking, which is interfering with their ability to focus and thereby to learn anything in depth,” I respond that students are learning differently. Rather than stay within the boundaries of a certain subject, students are pulling in references from art, cinema, music, architecture, nuclear science, and ethics to support arguments that might be a little ragged around the edges, but which are brighter, rely on broader readings, and resonate with relevant cultural influences.

Ms. Willard plays devil’s advocate, presumably, when she asks, “Are we raising a new generation to demonstrate absolutely no respect in their electronic writings for those in positions they really ought to respect, not to mention peers?” She might be wise to note that it is always the professor’s prerogative to stick to her guns and to explain clearly the source of a poor grade. I had this exchange just yesterday. A student demanded of her adjunct professor that her grade be changed to a grade of A. The adjunct, a doctoral student, reminded that student that she had made several explanations for how to improve the submitted paper but the student chose to ignore the suggestions. The grade stood and the student did everything short of heavy sighing and foot stamping to insist that she receive a grade of A. What manners might be missing will soon be learned if the professor is clear about expectations and gives clear feedback.

It is also wise to remember that we still give 90 percent of our attention to the 10 percent of students who demand it. Look around and you will see that manners still exist, despite the Internet.



1. Shirley - April 20, 2006

I admire teachers who take their jobs seriously, and who try to deal with the challenges of the day. Thank you for what you are doing.



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