When is a student project a student project?

As we slide into the deadline for senior theses (called Ronbun here in Japan), with the utterly ridiculous requirement of bringing a paper copy on January 9, between 10 AM and 4 PM to the central office, and not to the advisor, we see student levels of stress peak. Sometimes.

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Buffalo and car playing chicken. photo by Justin K

Of late, the kind of students that play “chicken” with graduation and credits seem to gravitate to my IT seminar. Perhaps they see that I offer “Projects” instead of “Thesis”, with the possibilities of producing non-textual English, usually with media such as video or online collages and portfolios. The other trend I am noticing is that students are not as willing to “make something” anymore. Passive consumption of media is what they seem to be after. When they arrive in my seminar, where we put in hours recording audio podcasts, making short informational videos, or playing with sites like Mozilla Popcorn, some balk. But we are stuck with each other. For 2 years.

As the deadline gets closer and closer, I warn students that you can’t make a video like you write a paper. No all-nighter will get you close. But they see the tremendous pressure for us to pass them to preserve our graduation rates, and sit back and, well, do very little. Some teachers edit student papers heavily. Which brings me to two points.

A wonderful article (found through Stephen Downes) about Fake and Real student voices got me to thinking that at some point, a student needs to take responsibility. Making a thesis required with such a variety of students is just plain silly. It should be optional, for those that can handle it, and editing needs to be pedagogically sound. We are not rewriters. I did that for a year at a medical electronics company, and there was no teaching involved. Hated it.

But I have developed a new strategy for student writing.  I no longer edit student papers. I sit down with them, and discuss the paper, sometimes sentence by sentence. But they have to make the changes. Using Google Drive documents allows us to both work on the same document at the same time. Usually we are sitting side by side. I can help if they get stuck, without taking control. Again, technology has come to the rescue for some things like editing papers, making it more educational and less product oriented. However, I am still working on the process, and the realization that to learn, you have to make something.

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