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?