I did something today that I don't normally do - I directly confronted a student (actually, two) who wasn't engaged in class. I had asked a clicker question related to elasticities and gotten a really mixed answer distribution so I asked students explicitly to draw the graphs associated with each of the four possible responses (basically, the four possible combinations of elastic/inelastic supply/demand) and then I was going to re-ask the question. While they were supposedly drawing the graphs, I walked around the room. When I do this, there's always a disturbing number of students who are not doing what I've asked them to do. Even more disturbing is that there are always some students who are do not even make a pretense of caring; they aren't taking notes, they just sit there, sometimes texting on their phones but often, I really have no idea what they are doing. I usually ignore these students - I will sometimes remind them that if they never practice doing economics, they won't actually learn economics but my generally philosophy is that they are (supposedly) adults and if they choose not to take responsibility for learning anything, it's not my job to "make" them. But for some reason, today it was really bugging me. Maybe I'm tired and it's Monday, maybe it's the cloudy weather, or maybe we've just hit that point in the semester when I really need a break, but it just suddenly was incredibly annoying that I was putting in all this effort and these students were just sitting there - and when they fail the class, they will probably blame me - and something inside me sort of snapped. So I stopped next to one of these students who was just sitting there, staring into space (nothing in front of him, no notes, no pencil, nothing), and I asked him, "I'm curious - do you find that you can remember everything without taking any notes?" He looked up at me and seemed surprised (though I'm not sure if he was surprised at my question or the fact that I was talking to him at all) and said, "No, I never take notes, in any of my classes." I just said, "Um, OK..." and kept walking. And across the aisle was another student who was not only just sitting there, staring into space, but had these big headphones on (I'm talking old-school padded stereo headphones, not even little earbuds) and didn't appear to even have a backpack with him. So I stopped in front of him and asked, "Can I ask you, why exactly are you here? You're not taking notes, you're not even listening. Why bother coming to class at all?" He protested that he was listening, his headphones weren't even plugged in, showing me the unplugged cord. I made a somewhat sarcastic remark about keeping his ears warm and suggested he at least bring something to write with next time. At that point, I went back to the podium and engaged the clicker question.
Interestingly, headphone-guy came up to me after class and said that he has to miss class on Friday and just wanted to check what we would be covering so he could keep up. I got the feeling that he was feeling guilty and I felt a little bad. But I also am wondering if I should do that sort of thing more often. On the one hand, I really don't think that I should have to tell college students that they should take notes, and I shouldn't have to badger them into attempting the graphing questions I give them. On the other hand, if they don't do these basic things, their chances of failing my class are even higher. At what point does their failure become more their responsibility than mine?
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