Students Don’t Want Rigor

I learned from NPR this morning that “A Lack of Rigor Leaves Students ‘Adrift” in College.”*  It seems that, according to a study by two sociologists, students are spending less time studying (less than five hours/week) and writing (less than twenty pages/semester), leaving them lacking in the critical thinking department.  The authors suggest that some of this has to do with student evaluations: “There’s a huge incentive set up in the system [for] asking students very little, grading them easily, entertaining them, and your course evaluations will be high.”  In a wonderful coincidence, I received the written comments on my evaluations yesterday, and here’s a sample:

  • “I feel this class was a little too demanding.”
  • “For a 100 level class there was too much work.”
  • “This should not be a 100 level class.”
  • “This class was more demanding than all of my other classes–even much higher level courses.  Work load was way too much.”

And wouldn’t you know it: in this class, I asked students to write 20-30 pages over the semester, and reading/studying required at least five hours/week.

This would seem to prove the implication of the “adrift” study: if you give students rigor, they’ll give you shit evaluations.  But I’m not drawing that particular conclusion (nor, I’d imagine, do the authors of the study, which I look forward to reading).  First of all, I’m happy to say that while the comments weren’t great, my numbers were pretty damned good — at or above the school average (which is pretty high, I should note).  Secondly, I don’t think the problem is that I gave the students too much to do.  It’s more to do with my accompanying message.  I’ve been putting more and more effort into selling the students on the idea that working hard is actually a good thing — that they should demand that much be demanded of them.  I’ll continue fine-tuning this message and the syllabi to go along with it.

That said, I’m dying to know what other classes my students were taking, and what, exactly, they had to do to get a good grade.  Show up and stay awake?  Or maybe consciousness wasn’t even a requirement — just keep the seat warm.  Were I in a position of any security and authority (read: if only I were tenure-track…), I’d ask not just for evaluation comparisons with the whole school, but between the humanities and sciences and within history.  I’ve got a feeling that 100-level sciences classes are keeping the critical-thinking bar pretty low: memorize and repeat your chemical concoctions and mathematical formulas, and you’ll be just fine.  The word on the quad is that history classes are hard, and I want to know where that’s coming from.

* Yes, yes, I know I’m late to this party.  Inside Higher Ed had something on this back in January, as have other bloggers.  My own rigor, it would seem, is lacking.

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