I have a passion for learning, and over the last few years, I have completed a great deal of online courses. From the superb Pixar course on storytelling, to the very popular Science of Wellbeing course at Yale University.
As teachers scramble to embrace remote learning and ways to engage their students, we are also challenged with how they will be assessed.
If we cannot see them physically do the work in class, how do we know it was them that did it?
A term that comes up often in the graduate-level courses I have completed at M.I.T. and University of Queensland is the Honour System.
Of course, there are some multiple-choice questions, some forum engagement, some peer-assessed work, and even assessed work. But there is often work that is set that you complete, and no one checks. The tutors trust that you do it, because it will help with your understanding of the course materials.
This has included mind maps, a reflective diary, and even conducting an interview with someone whose opinion differs greatly from mine.
I do the work. As an adult, I know that achievements that you have worked for have more meaning, and overcoming challenges contribute to your wellbeing.
Sadly some of our students will not feel this way. Too often the “grade” is the target, rather than the personal development skills learned along the way.
A key part of any education is to embed positive character traits, such as politeness, honesty, and punctuality. We are trying to help develop well-rounded adults who can contribute to society and make an impact in their chosen careers.
Many students are so afraid of failure that they want to copy their friends, because failing as a group is deemed in some way acceptable. Or they will try and stay safely in their comfort zone and fear trying anything new, a frustrating trait when you work in the arts.
Each year we will come across plagiarism, which is thankfully quite easy to spot. It is disappointing that a student would rather copy and paste something from the internet, rather than go through the process of engaging with a subject and actually learning.
Then there’s the sense of entitlement. The students that have decided they deserve an “A”, despite a total lack of evidence to support this.
Sadly, this is part of the job. As educators, we have come to expect there to be those teenagers that want a short cut. That school or college is just something they have to “get through”. Something to be endured.
What is most disappointing is the parents that seem to agree. I have a four-year-old daughter, and I have some understanding for helicopter parents who want to stay close to their child and make sure no harm comes to them.
It’s terrifying being a parent, and the world seems suddenly much scarier when your first child is born.
Lawnmower parents, on the other hand, concern me the most. These are the parents who want to remove any obstacle out of the way of their child. They want to give their child a life with no adversity, no failure, and no disappointment.
This can manifest as them doing their child’s homework for them. Already a high percentage of parents do this, and it will only get worse if remote learning becomes more common in a post-pandemic world.
As educators, we can usually spot this. The homework submitted is far higher quality than the work they do in class, and they have a total inability to discuss the topic in any depth.
Sure, they will get the grade, but they won’t have learned anything and will eventually get to a position where their mummy or daddy can’t do the work for them and they will be humiliated.
It will become a vicious circle where they have not developed the ability to independently learn, to face and overcome a challenge, and the sense of achievement in doing so, and so avoid doing so at all costs because they can’t deal with failure.
And failure will come. People will see the disconnect between their grade and their ability. They will see how they crumble when faced with adversity, or receive negative feedback if they manage to get into employment.
As an educator, I see the beauty in what we do. In the joy of learning and self-development. I love seeing students surpass their expectations through hard work, and fulfill their potential.
Sadly, some parents will choose a path of dishonour and deceit, and take away their child’s opportunity to really test themselves. They will contribute to their son or daughter’s sense of entitlement, and the belief that things should come easy to them.
With education going through a transformation, there will be more opportunity and temptation for parents to remove academic obstacles from their child’s life. As teachers, we need to be vigilant about this, and as part of the feedback process ask challenging questions to test knowledge is sincere.
The world is changing fast, and our students best chance of success comes from having the same passion for learning that we do.
How to get them to realize that is the challenge.