Monday, August 4, 2008

Longest D.Min. Title Contest

It's that time of the year when we are working on processing the new D.Min. theses. A quick query of our catalog turned up one thesis title from 2001 that was 207 characters long:

Development of an educational program of Christian formation for the Baptist Church of Quintana, Hato Rey, Puerto Rico to deal with the racial and ethnic prejudice in the congregation and the local community

What's the longest thesis title in your library? To be sporting, I'll allow Ph.D. titles as well.

Best Wishes to William Patry

William Patry has announced the end of his Patry Copyright Blog.

For the past four years, William Patry has provided a well-written inside look into the messy world of copyright legislation. In an area where most of us are as much at sea as beginning Hebrew students are with BDB, Patry gave us intelligent landmarks by which to chart our course when trying to understand copyright. Anyone who has interacted with copyright law cannot help but appreciate the reasonableness of his postings even in areas where there are disagreements. His writings have given me hope that people can (and sometimes do) apply common sense to copyright laws.

Sadly enough, however, he cites as one of the main reasons for discontinuing his blog that the current state of copyright law is too depressing. It is hard not to agree with him. He writes, "Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners."

Copyright law affects education and especially affects libraries as we gain access to more digital resources. We will need more voices like William Patry's if we are to ensure the availability without prohibitive cost of the resources our students need.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What's Wrong With Students Today?

Today's online Chronicle Careers is an article by Thomas H. Benton entitled "On Stupidity". In it, he briefly reviews a spate of books warning of America's burgeoning anti-intellectualism. He then lists a number of complaints that come out of his own direct observations as an educator. He sees too many students who are:
  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their "feelings" — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
  • Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism. (I recently had a student defend herself by claiming that her paper was more than 50 percent original, so she should receive that much credit, at least.)
  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
  • Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).
  • Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.
  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while "needing" to receive very high grades.
  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.
Among other things, he proposes,

"We need to reverse the customer-service mentality that goes hand-in-hand with the transformation of most college teaching into a part-time, transient occupation and the absence of any reliable assessment of course outcomes besides student evaluations."

I was struck by his recommendations, coming as they do from an undergraduate, university perspective, as they are similar to issues that we are discussing at our seminary. I spent three profitable days last week at a Higher Learning Commission workshop on making student learning assessment a core institutional strategy. Graduate theological education faces many of the same trends and challenges that Benton notes above.

I also increasingly feel the importance of one solution that he does not mention in his article: Libraries can play a significant role in addressing student learning barriers. To the extent that higher education today is trying to make (keep?) education a marketable commodity by side-lining traditional learning environments, it often does so by also diminishing the role of the library. Libraries are significant places of learning, and librarians are well-positioned to engage student interest in learning at that most critical stage of learning: research and discovery.

To misquote Shakespeare, "Stupidity, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere." Libraries are one place, though, where stupidity's light grows dim.