The sodding Student Experience

There was an interesting article in the Times Higher Education yesterday entitled ‘To spoon feed is not to nuture’ which examines research into learning behaviours undertaken at the University of Cumbria. Peter Ovens, Senior Research Fellow, suggests that many of today’s students are “puzzled” by the idea of independent learning, as a result of being spoon fed through their GCSEs and A Levels by teachers who have been forced to focus on targets and league tables. Dr Ovens further warns that current reforms that focus on improving the “student experience” could lead to even greater spoon feeding of students, which is not in their best interest, nor that of their Universities.

This is an issue that I’m very interested in, as I currently work at an Institution that is trying hard to improve it’s National Student Survey results which means that I hear the phrase “the student experience” roughly once a day. I’m also familiar, as I’m sure a lot of my fellow librarians are, with the irritation that is the Spoon Fed Student. You know the ones; they stand in a queue to ask how to get to the first floor, despite the large signs pointing to the stairs. They come to the Help Desk to tell you that the PC attached to the scanner is not turned on, to which the only response is “well why don’t you turn it on then?” They try and persuade you to look up every book on their reading list on the catalogue for them, then get all teary when you tell them you’ll show them how to do the first one and thats it. Then they ask for help finding them all on the shelf, even once you’ve explained DDC to them and shown them the stacks. They complain that no one ever sat down with them personally to go over all the Library rules and regulations in detail, so how can they be expected to comply with them? In short, they make you want to tear your hair out. And there seem to be more and more of them every year.

Now I’m not really qualified to suggest a solution for this state of affairs, but I certainly agree with Dr Ovens that more spoon feeding of students will not help and this is why I really dislike the focus on the sodding Student Experience. Everyone is so concerned that final year students will rate them badly on the NSS that they go out of their way to keep them happy; reading coursework before it’s handed in to advise on structure, being lenient about having student ID on campus, waiving deserved fines if someone kicks up enough of a fuss, giving direct links from Blackboard to e-journal articles that are required reading* etc etc ad nauseum. None of this helps the student in the long run, it just leaves them thinking that there will always be a way out of any difficult situation they find themselves in, they don’t really need to make much effort and if they complain enough their problem will go away. That is no preparation for the real world and is bound to have an effect on employability rates, which is not ideal when we’re releasing graduates into a recession.

I understand that students who are spoon fed through their school years are going to expect the same at University and this situation is unlikely to change unless schools and colleges change it themselves. I also think that it is unfair to expect 18 year olds to work in a way that they have never worked before, and to succeed at it straight away. Nevertheless, instead of giving into these expectations throughout their University career, maybe we should explain the realities of higher education in induction week and give them the first year to get used to it, with some assistance, and then let them sink or swim? After all, the current situation doesn’t seem to be working very well for any of us, and I would quite like to retire with normal blood pressure levels and a full head of hair!

* Unpopular opinion: I don’t even like putting Reading Lists on the catalogue. When I were a student (and this were all fields!)  we got one printed copy of the Reading List and had to look up everything on it ourselves and it didn’t do us any harm!!!

11 thoughts on “The sodding Student Experience

  1. You know, they don’t get much better when they’re in the workplace…my pet hate is the Uni reading lists that allow them to go straight into the required articles/text, without ever having had to think about/find them for themselves, or even see the physical version of what they’ve been directed to (if it’s available).
    This leads to things in my workplace like trainees flailing about confused, because they think they’re looking for a newspaper, when they’re actually looking for a legal journal.

    • Oh, I feel your pain. My personal fav was seeing a confused trainee wandering up and down the rows of shelves, looking from the piece of paper in her hand to the book titles and back again, getting ever more perplexed. When I asked her what she was looking for, she said “Oh, I need a book called, un… *consults paper* the Official Journal of the European Union?”

      • Yes, this is exactly what I mean, we may be making things easier for them while they’re at Uni and therefore dodging their whinging and complaining, but it’s not doing them any favour for the future, especially if they go into a sector where information literacy is key, say for example, LAW!!

        Jaff; one of our Library subject blogs does just that for all of the articles they have to read each week and it drives me nuts!

  2. “They complain that no one ever sat down with them personally to go over all the Library rules and regulations in detail, so how can they be expected to comply with them?”

    Oh god, this! I still get rage at the memory of the student (law student, actually!) who, on being told of the fine he’d accrued by returning his books more than a month late, demanded to know why he hadn’t been told that there were late fines. When I explained that he would have been told that at his induction, he said impatiently, “Oh, I didn’t have time to go to that.” I then pointed out that info on loan periods and fines was available on our website, he said “Well, with all due respect, is it reasonable to expect people to look there?”

    I told him that, with all due respect, he was an adult and was therefore expected to take responsibility for his own actions. He demanded to speak to the library manager and reported me for being rude to him. Luckily, I think the library manager had as little time for the entitled little sh*t as I did, so no action was taken!

    Am still very cross about this. Does it show? 😉

    • It’s always Law students, isn’t it?! It’s as if they think their practicing their arguing skills or something, so they must get quite depressed when they always fail. Also, whenever we find RFID tags that have been torn out of books so they can be stolen, they’re almost always from Law books…

  3. We get this all the time. Some of my favourites are:

    What does “Not To be Taken Away” mean? – er, you can’t take it away?
    Waving a reading list in an indeterminate direction, saying “can you tell me where all these books are?” – no, have you tried the library catalogue?

    The most common enquiry is students asking where a book is without consulting the catalogue for its availability or even a class number. My standard response (in my head) is: do I look like a catalogue?

    We also have the ID card problem, and people trying to get out of fines. The other week a student who had forgotten to renew her books and therefore owed us £25 tried the following:
    “All the people on my course get let off their fines, so why should I have to pay?” – because we only waive fines in exceptional circumstances, and forgetting about your books for three weeks is not akin to a bereavement or a stay in hospital, you cheeky mare.

    A lot of our students don’t bother to think for themselves. As they are all training to be nurses or midwives, this is a cause for concern. No wonder the health service is a mess.

    • My personal favourite is when you come across students wandering lost and confused through the shelves and when you ask them if they’ve checked the catalogue they just say no; did they expect the book to come flying off the shelf into their hands?!

      As I said in the post, I do have sympathy with first years having to learn an entirely new system and it’s highly likely these days that a lot of them won’t have used a library before and won’t know how to look for their books. But once they’ve had an induction and been shown how to use a (fairly simple and intuitive!) catalogue once, I expect them to get on with it!

      I have a lot more time for our nurses than for most of our other students because although they need their hands holding a lot, they’re generally very nice and polite with it. I save my wrath for the Business and Law students…

  4. As someone who has just gone back to uni to do another MSc, I’m quite gobsmacked at how much I *haven’t* learned in a 40 hour module. Most of the ‘teaching’ has been self-directed by use of workbooks where every step is given to me. I’m pretty good at following directions, but it hasn’t actually helped me to understand what I’ve done or why.

    When I told this to the leader, as many others have done, and suggested that perhaps the workbooks could be more of a guidance to get people thinking, she told me that was the point of the assessment. OK, but we didn’t learn anything in the lectures/practical sessions and there is no real support for using the software packages or making sense of the assessment. It’s pretty astonishing that for an MSc they are spoon-feeding us so much. It’s no wonder that students of all ages are now unable to do much for themselves.

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