I thought both of the videos included in this blog were extremely thought-provoking. I remember thinking some of the things in the first video as an undergraduate, and now as a GTA Declining By Degrees forces me to see things from the other side of the fence. Two particular things that stood out to me from this documentary were the issue of textbook prices and the issue of “sleepwalking through college” (Merrow).
The issue of overpriced textbooks continues to be a conversation in higher education, I think. Is it ethical to charge such exorbitant prices for a textbook, let a alone for a new edition of a textbook whose only changes are so minor that perhaps a new edition wasn’t necessary at all? I had a friend in graduate school whose textbook for her class was several hundred dollars. College students, especially grad students, can’t possible afford to pay for overpriced textbooks. How is it that the industry continues to charge these prices? How is it that professors still continue to require these same textbooks (and some don’t even crack the book open once during the entirety of the semester?). Something interesting that I’ve come across this semester at Virginia Tech is that every GTA is required to use the Virginia Tech-created textbook for our English classes. I believe this book is around $100, and because it is Virginia Tech specific and gets updated, there is really no sell-back potential, if I understand this correctly. While it’s nice that everything they need for the class (readings and lecture related material) is in one location, whether they get their money’s worth out of it depends on if the instructor uses it or not.
Honestly, I think about the issue of “sleepwalking through college” a lot. Preceding this conversation in Declining by Degrees, John Merrow had a segment on grading in college, basically claiming that “Cs” have now become the “Fs” of undergraduate coursework. The reasoning behind this could varying from concern about backlash over retention rates to the “social contract” that seems to exist between students and teachers (Merrow). I think this pressure to curve the grades is all over the academy because students are pressured to fit all of their courses into four years. They have a lot of work, and I understand that. I think this pressure could also exist heavily in the humanities at institutions like Virginia Tech because many of our students are here for STEM related fields. We don’t want to make a gen-ed course something that is too hard because they have other major related courses that they need to concentrate on (I’m not saying that every instructor feels this way). BUT Is this ethical? Is this the real world? It’s hard to say. But it’s something to think about. Does this practice of soft grading encourage students to sleepwalk through their undergraduate courses? Students do respond to challenges. As much as I might have complained about coursework as an undergraduate, finishing a challenging assignment always left me feeling satisfied with myself and my ability to multitask. I think I am striving to find this balance as I begin my teaching career—balancing challenging students with understanding their stress level.
Merrow, John. Declining by Degrees. YouTube, uploaded by Bamboo Invasion, 18 September 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcxDVYo2wH8