Monday, September 8, 2008

On Academic Engagement

This article/rant is a guest post written by Sonja Babovic, a third-year Science student, and as such may particularly resonate with other students in the Faculty of Science, though the author believes that the fundamental ideas discussed in the rant can be applied across the board.

It really irks me when people complain about keeners in their classes. You know, the people who commit the horrific sin of trying to participate in the course and actively learn. Who ask questions in class because they are interested in the answers, and maybe even believe that the whole class could benefit from thinking and discussing said question/answers. I will make no effort to hide that I am one of those keeners, and I don't see anything particularly wrong with this.

Complaints I hear about keeners can be lumped into two main categories. The first argues that people who ask questions, especially intelligent questions, in class, are only trying to showcase how smart they are. While this may be true in some cases, I think that it is far more rare than most complainers make it out to be. If someone asks a question, it's usually because they want to know the answer. There are much more direct ways to brag about one's academic success, and from my experience, most top students keep quiet about their grades, because at even the slightest mention of them the student runs the risk of being labelled as a braggart. On the other hand, posting words to the effect of, "i failed the midterm because i didn't study and i'm screwed for this course LOL can someone help me plz?" is still considered perfectly respectable.

The other complaint I hear is that keeners are just trying to draw attention to themselves. Let's go with the worst-case scenario and pretend this is true in all cases. For one, I think there are much more disruptive ways to draw attention to oneself than sparking lively academic discussion. Like being obnoxious by talking loudly in class and berating your classmates and/or the instructor. Or playing World of Warcraft on your laptop while sitting in the front rows, which is incredibly visually distracting. Or consistently making out in class. I’m not kidding.

Or POSTING IN BLOCK CAPS ON DISCUSSION BOARDS, as exemplified by this gem:

but most importantly
WISH MYSELF A GREAT LUCK ( while all of you just good luck) ahahahhaah
happy tomorrow.

Secondly, I've observed a common sentiment regarding UBC among many of my colleagues: classes are too large and profs are too distant. I hear complaints over this so frequently, and I am left puzzled when the same people roll their eyes at anyone who tries to spark any kind of in-class dialogue. Do you want classes where your prof lectures at you for 50 minutes straight, or do you want your classes to be a more participatory kind of forum? Or do you just want to complain?

I mean, you'll have to excuse me for being at university because I genuinely want to be here. If you picked your courses or your program of study because a) you thought it would get you into medical school, b) your parents forced you to, c) you didn't know what else to do with your life, or d) all of the above, that is unfortunate. As an adult, you are responsible for your own happiness, and why you would spend arguably the best years of your life doing something you show no apparent interest in, is truly beyond me, and I'm sorry I can't help you there. My opinion is that you should be doing whatever makes you happy on a fundamental level, but, you have the right to instead spend your time doing something that bores you to tears.

I'll be the first to admit that UBC is far from perfect, and I've spent hours of my life ranting about things I think could be improved on here. As an example, I've found many of my very time-consuming undergraduate labs lacking in intellectual stimulation, often devoid of correlation with the course material, starved for knowledgeable TAs dedicated to help students get the most of their lab experience... the list goes on. At the same time, I think that if things ever get to the point where I'm disgruntled and dissatisfied most of the time, that point would be a really good time to leave. I realize this may come as a shock to many people, but if you really do dislike UBC so much, and if you can think of no positive things to say about it... nobody is making you stay here? The same logic applies to your program. If you have constructive criticism and are trying to engage in meaningful dialogue with others to bring about the change you desire, you have massive respect from me. But if all you're going to do is indulge in cynicism and whinery, this helps no-one, least of all yourself, and in this case I do wonder why you are staying in a place that makes you so unhappy.

I see so few people in Science genuinely interested in what they are presently taking, and this is unfortunate for a host of reasons. I do realize that being enthusiastic about what one is spending well over 40hrs/week doing is outside the social norm of cool. However, a more important consideration, to me, is that it’s generally a good thing to be able to speak of things that matter to you with pride and confidence.

I don't know about you, dear reader, but I left the notion of "being cool" back in high school, where it belongs.