Every quarter I warn my students that while I seem to be pretty laissez-faire and relaxed about the course, I'm actually a hardass when it comes to grading. I inform them that the average grade on writing assignments is usually a B- or C. I tell them there are no rewrites. I do give them opportunities to come to me for help.
Usually I don't get to see the train wrecks of their writing assignments until midway through the quarter. However, here we are, week 2, and I'm already getting to see the loveliness.
Their assignment: Write a blog entry on a topic of their choosing related to the 1890s (I provided a list of recommended topics). Take an American Studies approach. Doesn't need to be an essay or have an argument, just interesting and informative.
I provided a sample blog entry. I told them (in writing) how many sources to use. I told them (in writing) their sources must be reliable. I specifically forbade them (in writing) from using Wikipedia. I told them (in writing) that if they weren't sure what an American Studies approach is, they either need to drop the class and take a lower-division American Studies course or come to my office hours to chat. I told them (in writing) that they needed to turn in their blog entries 24 hours in advance of class.
You can see where this is going.
So far, about 80% of the students have cited Wikipedia. Others cite Thinkquest or Geocities pages that themselves have no documentation of sources. Many are turned in late. They're riddled with misspellings. They're little history reports, drawn from encyclopedias. There's little interdisciplinarity in them. If I ask you to write a blog entry, for example, on X city at the turn of the century, and I ask for an American Studies approach, and I ask you to narrow the topic using your discretion, I don't want to hear about its chief industries and its population count. This isn't a friggin economics course! (I must admit I have received a couple of pretty good entries, including one on vibrators and sexual anxiety in the 1890s, but the majority are disappointing in one way or another.)
So today I get to kick butt and take names. I don't like to do this, but better now than later. In fairness to those whose blog entries are due later in the quarter, I will give those who already turned in their entries a chance to add new sources and an American Studies flair.
I'm thinking of disallowing online sources entirely (except for maybe a select list that includes the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress) for their essay assignment. And I'm going to make that assignment much stricter than I usually do.
Why, WHY do students think it's OK to sign up for an upper-division American Studies course without taking any American Studies prerequisites? They wouldn't do this in physics because they know they'd get their asses handed to them.
I used to be one of those highly accommodating instructors, scheduling copious additional office hours, reading entire student paper drafts (even when I wasn't teaching composition or lit), answering e-mail at all hours of the day and night. Once, when I was a TA for a particularly clueless professor, I held THIRTY additional office hours to help students make sense of a garbled essay prompt based on poorly presented course material.
But no more. I'm happy to go out of the way for students who are clearly engaged, have done all the course reading, and are appreciative of my assistance. But I just can't deal with the sense of entitlement anymore, the assumption that anyone can waltz into my class and expect to do well because the topic concerns everyday life.
Today the student newspaper reports that my university is specifically targeting "underrepresented students, including high-achiveing, transfer, educationally disadvantaged or low-income students." Ha! I love the idea that high-achieving students are underrepresented here. And this is at a university that only accepts the top 11-12% of high school students from the state. What the hell is going on in high schools these days?!?