Responsibility and Ethics continued

This comes from a comment on “the other weblog” from a good citizen:

I was appalled as a student to see the level of irresponsibility and “uncaringness” in my math peers. Has no one taught them, in their previous 19 years, to pull their own weight? (Then again, looking at who’s running the country, I don’t think it’s a new issue.) I don’t even think it’s a college issue. If you’re not prepared, you fail. Yes, this is detrimental to a person’s self-esteem; maybe that’s a good thing. Somewhere along the line every individual needs to learn responsibility. Maybe a slap in college will wake them up. Maybe not. Maybe we can slap the parents??

I myself wouldn’t go after parents. Not even after students, who may or may not know how to “pull their own weight.” It’s not my intention to presume too much, but to justify certain ethics that I feel will promote opportunity. For Mary Ellen, the way people behaved in the course perhaps detracted from her own experience as a student who takes learning space seriously, and must take it seriously, because the institution will provide the path for her own future goals. This last is a key point. If I choose a path, then I must deal with the consequences of my choice. If I intend a vertical climb, I should bring ropes.

Since I’m a game player, I know that good games are designed to be winnable. But they also involve obstructions. Some games punish the player for not paying attention; they force players to rethink their approach. But they also reward those who untangle the patterns and work hard. Good game design is a good model for policy making, in my mind.

The drop date at our college is a major problem, and I’ve argued this in open forums and lost. I believe a drop should be three to four weeks into a semester. Such a date provides people with plenty of time to establish themselves in a learning space, to plan ahead, to determine fit, and to commit. A drop date that is too far into a semester becomes a wild-card variable.

In addition, I can no longer drop students from a course. I should be able to do this, so that I can control and encourage the learning space. In a game, players who get to the middle by cheating or by continually running to the walkthrough will not respond to feedback in the same way that vanguard players do. In reality, I cannot surmount a game section for another player. Players must make the decisions, learn from mistakes, and find the way through. No one could save Sampras from his opponent but himself.

In one section of American Shaolin, Matt Polly confronts major fear at the Zhengzhou tournament. This is the famous “scared shitless” scene. He writes:

I felt tears stream down my face. I wanted to go home. I wanted to stay in that bathroom forever. I wanted to do anything but get on top of a platform and face the Champ in front of 10,000 screaming Chinese.

For me, this is a powerful kind of learning situation where confrontation provides opportunity for demonstration of ability. Games, tests, wounds–these provide learning opportunity.

Let’s continue with this gaming metaphor.

But will the students play?

7 thoughts on “Responsibility and Ethics continued

  1. Mary Ellen

    To continue, using your metaphor: I believe we have become a society of walkthroughs. There is no accountability for virtually anything, be it compulsory attendance and participation in a classroom, or ‘fessing up to those snarky e-mails that find their way through the entire insurance company’s website, to stating that yes, there was a politically-motivated conspiracy to force certain appointees out of their positions.

    We are no longer a goal-oriented people. We see, we want, we get–but to what purpose? I blamed parents for the problems being encountered with “these college kids today”, but it’s a much larger, more encompassing issue than bad parenting. When did we become so absorbed in easy gratification? While one student did indeed distract me during math, what horrified me (after spending 20 years dreaming of college as being this mystical place where brilliant people went to become even more brilliant) the most was watching these people wait to get what they were there for. Trouble is, when asked, none of them knew exactly what they wanted to get.

    In a game, the player should be, must be, goal-oriented. Maybe not as vehemently as I am, but there should be a plan, a mission, a Thing to Accomplish. Do the students enrolling at Tunxis have such a capitally-lettered plan? Or are they there “cuz they need collidge”. I delayed going for a very long time, so as not to waste either time or money when I got here. I agree that a 30-day trial period in class should be plenty of time to figure out if one should be there, and I do not understand why you cannot ask a student to leave after the same timeframe. There’s that accountability thing, again. I think an institution has a responsibility to inform students when they are hopelessly outmatched to a program, or lack the necessary skills to succeed. What do they do then? I do not see that as a subject Tunxis needs to address.

    To fault the game-play metaphor, I think it rarely translates to real life successfully. Those individuals who can approach a game with the intent of winning do not come by that incentive only through the game. The best Zelda players I knew were also all tops in their respective fields. Likewise the two who would call around for tips were salaried, entry-level employees. Did the game sort them thus? The game merely revealed what was already there. So, after spending an hour trying to figure a curriculum that sounded like a very cool RPG, I’ve decided that would be the backward thing to do.

    I’m back to blaming society…

  2. Deb

    I, too, am an older student (some might argue that I am ready for the geriatric ward with my traditional views.) I see students sleeping in class, not completing the tasks asked of them, and the constantly skipping of classes. I blame the society we are in. We are a nation of convenience. We teach our children that it is ok not to work hard. We teach them not to be accountable for their actions. We teach them that the all mighty dollar is the reason to exist. My daughter recently attended classes with me, and over heard a conversation between a student and professor. This student did not hand in their homework on time. Reilly then whispered to me…”wouldn’t Daddy get fired if he didn’t get his work done on time.” Yes! A nine year old gets it! ((Let’s keep our fingers crossed that my husband and I keep instilling a great foundation.)) Are there exceptions to this…of course. It would be irresponsible of me to make a blanket statement that all students give a lack luster performances. Am I on game everyday…no. I too have responsibilites, and I need to be flexible. Unfortunately, I have sat in too many classes that disrespect, poor work ethic, and an attitude of entitlement is the norm. If you are an exception…..Rock On. Do your thing! Keep your focus! Our society needs you.

  3. Steve Post author

    Man, you all are rough. But let me emphasize that the reasoning behind my posts was to set the conditions and argue for the listed ethics. That is, if one chooses one path, one must respond to the space proactively.

    Mary Ellen, note that the game is merely metaphor here. In the game, one must beat level 1 to move to level 2. Level 2 will also augment skills learned in level 1. I love the way Pac Man does this. In Sir Gawain games are deadly serious, though, and if Gawain makes a mistep, even though he does have some cushion, there is consequence. Rejection slips for writers are excellent teachers, but it’s not necessarily clear what the lesson might be.

    Deb, I know many people, myself included, who need to travel, work, lay about, or experiment prior to other demanding experiences. You’re right. Society does need the thinkers.

  4. Jesse

    The game metaphor is an interesting one, and though it does have its faults it can be a neat way to compare. Generally, an action will have consequences of either long term, short term, or both. A “Society of Walkthroughs” is a very good way to put the attitude of much of the student population around today into a nutshell. Not all, and not all the time, but definitely some.

    The “Game” of life is a serious one, and goals can be important. Of course that’s one of the problems people are facing; a lack of goals. I’m guilty of it myself, but that’s neither here nor there. If a person chooses a path often they can’t go back, but sometimes it’s not worth going all the way along a certain path for one reason or another (perhaps another has opened, or some other aspect has shed light on an undesired result) they choose to adjust or switch to another.

    I would argue the choice to drop a class that goes sour rather midway through the semester however is not a bad thing. There are some classes that may seem very well put together for the first few weeks and then things completely shift into another gear and fall apart. That’s what I’ve seen anyway (Not that I’d drop a class I’d paid for and worked hard in unless other factors played in as well) in my experiences, and though I’m not always a “top player” in the “game” of college, I can understand that as a whole students seem less inclined to put in the effort I think should be applied.

    If I may ask, what class was it with a mere four out of fifteen students appearing?

  5. beau

    Is college a single player game?

    The attitudes I run across at school vary significantly. I try to steer clear of the “eff everything” crowd, and have found that there are people (and I consider myself one of them) who love Tunxis.

    I love it because all of my instructors have been accessible. I work in an office part time, where my ideas are taken seriously by my boss–and she is counting on me to give her good ideas and a fresh perspective. When I’m in the classroom, I treat the instructor as if he or she is counting on me for the same. Teachers love that. I consider myself lucky never to have had one who insisted that his or her way of thinking was always the best way, or the only way.

    So now that I’m getting ready to transfer, will I find myself among more people like me at Wesleyan/Trinity, or will it be like Tunxis plus ridiculous debt?

  6. susan

    There are students like you, Beau, and Jesse, Mary Ellen, Deb, and many others who enjoy going to class and take advantage of the opportunity to learn. They’re also gameplayers who are successful in other areas of life because of choice and attitude, but also perhaps because they’ve had a chance to recognize what real life is all about and have learned how the “game” is played. Compromise, going by the rules, questioning them when appropriate, matching the pieces–the talents and skills to the requirements, all reflect an understanding of what’s being asked of a “player” to attain a goal.

    I wonder if the problem lies in pre-Tunxis experience; is there a difference between the more mature student and those straight out of high school? Maybe the early educational experience promotes a lack of commitment?

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