In yesterday’s post, I mentioned how some students will do things that look like work, but aren’t. In today’s post, I figured I’d address what some of those things are. But first, I want to clarify some things.
The vast majority of instructors and the institutions that employ them want students to succeed. A lot of students don’t seem to understand this. When a student is successful, that reflects well on everyone involved.
For example, we have an alum here who worked at one of the top gaming studios after graduation, helped develop some of that studio’s most popular games, and went on to establish his own studio. Are his name and photo plastered all over this department? You bet they are.
But here’s the catch: no one’s gonna hand it to you.
Personally, I believe that by assigning a student a passing grade in a course, I am giving my stamp of approval that the student has shown at least a minimal level of competence in the subject area. The standards of demonstrating said competence are laid out in advance via the syllabus, so it’s not like anyone can claim they were ambushed or anything. If a student doesn’t demonstrate the required competence, I can’t in good conscience assign a grade that says they did.
I recently saw a friend of a friend post on Facebook that as much as they wished they could just give everyone A’s and have interesting discussions all semester, the reality is that most people don’t work that way. Most people need things like schedules and evaluation metrics to keep them accountable.
A couple of years ago I worked as a teaching assistant for one of our foundational courses. The department tried to do something different by adding recitation sections, which had not been done before with this course. The sole purpose of the recitation was to help in any areas where students were struggling. There was nothing in the recitation that would affect a student’s grade.
You can guess what happened, right?
A few students showed up, but not many. And oddly enough, the ones who showed up rarely asked questions. You have to have both the carrot and the stick.
Real work vs. fake work
Since we want students to succeed, we have things in place to help them. Instructors keep office hours and can be contacted anytime via email. Our department even has a Help Lab that people can go to. But to get anything out of these resources, you have to come prepared.
Again, I’ll use a personal example here. When I took Calculus I, I struggled at the beginning. But worse than the struggle itself was the shame of struggling. I was a smart person, dagnabbit! I should be able to ace any assignment put in front of me with only the slightest of effort, shouldn’t I? I was completely unaccustomed to asking for help with anything academic.
Finally, I dragged myself to the Math Lab. It turned out that everyone was friendly and helpful, as long as you came with a specific question. You couldn’t just come in there and say, “I don’t get calculus.” You’d have to say, “I’m working on problem X on page Y, and I’m stuck at this stage of the problem.” Eventually I would go the Math Lab to do my homework and just sign in for a tutor whenever I had a problem. Between that and forming a study group with a few classmates, I struggled a lot less than I would have if I hadn’t gotten over myself and asked for help.
That’s real work. Nearly anything else is fake work.
Emailing the instructor about code that won’t compile an hour before the deadline of an assignment announced a week ago? Fake work.
Complaining about a low grade when you feel you worked really hard and deserve better? Fake work. Also, “deserve” is probably one of the least meaningful words in the English language, but more on that another time.
Claiming you added something extra to a submission that doesn’t do what the assignment asked for in the first place? You guessed it–fake work.
As an instructor, fake work offends me more than outright laziness. If you’d rather party than take your coursework seriously, I can at least respect that kind of honesty, even if I’m likely to flunk its owner. But fake work always feels slimy to me. Nobody likes to feel like someone’s trying to pull the wool over their eyes. I suggest that anyone responsible for evaluating you is the last person you want to try that on.
However, real work offers real benefits. I can’t guarantee that the benefits will be in proportion to the effort, but there will be some benefit. Without having to manipulate the grading scale at all, effort or the lack thereof was reflected in people’s grades. So if you’re not getting the results you’d hoped for, maybe you’re not putting in as much effort as you think you are, or your idea of how much effort is required is inaccurate.
What are your experiences with real vs. fake work? Share them in the comments!