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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Would students act this way at work?

I often tell my students that I believe part of my job is to help them develop the 'soft skills' like time management and responsibility that they will need in order to be successful in the workplace. But it has occurred to me that this may not mean much when students don't see any connection between school and life after graduation. I don't know why they don't but I simply can't imagine that they would ever treat a job the way they treat their classes.

Case in point: in my writing class, students were supposed to read a classmate's paper and give feedback by midnight on Friday, so the writers could revise and submit final drafts by 4pm today (Sunday). Three students did not post their feedback AT ALL, leaving their classmates high and dry. I was at a bit of a loss - I had thought the peer pressure of being responsible to a classmate would be strong enough that I hadn't actually figured out what to do if they flaked out completely. That is, there's a penalty for the student who was supposed to give the feedback but I wasn't sure what to do for the writers. I thought about giving them feedback myself but didn't really want to set that precedent. I ended up simply telling the writers that they would need to go ahead and revise their papers without their peer's feedback, reminding them that with or without external feedback, revision is an important part of the writing process. I also mentioned in my email to them that unfortunately, sometimes when you are working with a team, there will be people who don't pull their weight but you still need to get the work done. Still, I felt bad for them because it doesn't seem fair.

I am still incredulous that these three students flaked on their peers so completely. I expected that some students would give relatively useless feedback, or be late in posting, but I didn't anticipate that they would just outright not do it at all. I suppose that sounds naive but these are juniors and seniors, not first-years. I find it hard to imagine that they would outright not do something their boss at work asked them to do; is it really naive to expect them to treat their classes with the same seriousness?


  1. Professor, from a students perspective, If you were to make an example out of one student/ group the class might get it/ understand. Fear, can be a valuable motivating factor. Although your kind hearted deep down –they don’t know that!! Use that to your advantage!! The semester is still early.

  2. The real question is not whether they're first years or seniors, but
    whether they've done this sort of exercise (or more precisely, been trained to do this sort of exercise) before. If so, did the teacher take their peer reviews seriously? Were they held accountable before?

    In my experience, seniors have often done peer review before, but neither the teacher nor the author took it seriously, which means it doesn't really matter.

  3. Jordan, I think your attitude is typical of good students - I feel like my better students have way less patience with their flakey classmates than I do! It's a good thing for me to remember... Steve, the comments I got from students wasn't so much that they thought their feedback wouldn't matter but they were lacking confidence in how to do it (they didn't want to seem mean and/or they didn't feel qualified). We did talk about it some in class and I'm working on revising my peer review instructions.


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