Those who are worried about the academic performance of college students today might take a lesson from Michael Bugeja: Perhaps we should stop giving them everything they want.
Bugeja, a professor at Iowa State University, writes at Inside Higher Ed that university students have become entitled by the current higher ed environment. “Why shouldn’t students feel entitled? You’ve relieved them of responsibility,” he writes.
“Think about it. You assess by legislative fiat, document attendance, lord over technology, interact with students 24-7 via email or text, keep students on track via Blackboard or Canvas, treat students as customers, are blamed for grade inflation, fret over student evaluations and create syllabi that pass as legal briefs,” he continues.
Bugeja writes of a theory that “holding colleges accountable for student success may have done more harm than good, because it shifted responsibility from student to professor.” In his view, placing more responsibility on the students will improve their learning experiences.
One way he does that is by “giv[ing] fewer assignments and more extra credit,” because “students love that so much.”
“Those opportunities instill initiative. Don’t take it? Don’t complain about grades,” he writes:
At first, students think my classes are easy. Slowly, almost imperceptibly during the semester, they realize that they are responsible for just about everything, including attendance.
I instituted my attendance policy in the 1990s at Ohio University. Media ethics classes usually are large — about 100 students. One day I realized how much time I was wasting taking attendance in a large auditorium. I decided to let students miss as many classes as they wished as long as a test or assignment wasn’t due that day, provided they informed me about the real reason for their absence…
Of course, I understand how distracted students become using smartphones during lecture. My research has documented that for decades, including a 2006 piece titled “Facing the Facebook.” My students can face the Facebook in the last row of my class and text as much as they please. Those “liberty” seats are reserved for that, as well as for late arrivals and early departures.
Here’s the “come and go as you please” policy: “Sit in the last rows by the exit doors. You may come late because you missed your bus or need to leave early for any reason. These are your ‘liberty’ seats. Feel free to sit here if you want to engage in social media or text friends. It’s your tuition dollar. Just do not disturb anyone else.”
Another way in which Bugeja classes are different: he discourages note-taking. Citing research that indicates students learn less when focused on notes, Bujega prefers to let his lectures serve in the place of notes. “All of my lectures are online. I go over them, point by point, in class. Students can access them any time they wish. This frees me to interact more with students about concepts.”