Unprepared and unwilling learners: Are we enablers?

Derek Bok's "Our Underachieving Colleges" (2006)

Derek Bok's "Our Underachieving Colleges" (2006)

Over the past few months, I’ve notice major problems with students in the 2nd year and upper years. Problems in reading, problems in writing, problems in speaking and most alarmingly, problems in thinking.  With the Undergraduate Degree Level Expectations setting out to ensure that students achieve these skills by the time they graduate, I have to wonder are these skills being taught or learned through experience?  Can these skills be taught in a jam packed syllabus for a course?  Bok (2006) brings up some great points  about the need to teach speaking skills.   I think that is one skill that is undervalued.  As a professional, I am always speaking at conferences, in seminars, in meetings and classes.  It is unfortunate that this is a skill that isn’t addressed heavily in high school or the first year of university.

Many of the problems, I’m noticing, can be traced to one thing: fear.  Fear of learning new things, fear of failure and fear of  being a learner.  It could be that high school doesn’t prepare them enough or that the school system has students growing accustomed to a “failure gets a gold star for trying” mentality our society has pushed onto these youths.  Not to say that all students are spoiled but it seems that “A for effort” has made student either a) lazy b) inexperienced with dealing with failure or c)  overestimate their abilities, skills and knowledge.  Failure isn’t such a bad thing.  It’s how you learn and how you build character.  We are so eager to boost the confidence of the insecure Net Generation that we forget, the best confidence booster is when a student has failed and overcome that failure on their own.  That is true confidence, one that encourages positive learning behaviours.

How does this affect librarians?  Well, as we all know, each librarian is unique in their reference style.  Some will be kinder and help students find three articles when they need three while some will find one and ask them to try to find the other two on their own.  Some help with APA/MLA by doing a bit of proofreading, while some just point to the manual.   Perhaps it would be better to take on an education inspired policy rather than service policy.  We complain that students can treat us like we’re supposed to the research for them or help them cite their articles but truth of the matter?  We put that out there when we emphasize “customer service” rather than a “learning space.”




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