Incomplete student projects?
Do we have to text them the rubric?
I attended an architectural master's review at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) with Michael Webb of Archigram fame. Michael was on the panel. This was John Hartman's class of bright young architects of the future...the next generation. John is an innovative architect and educator. He's a dedicated young teacher. His disappointment in the class wasn't obvious to the students but was obvious to those on the panel. The projects weren't complete. The students didn't make the transition from their original thought and their initial art projects to the final models and project designs. He was perplexed. What happened? The students didn't notice. Their center of attention for the day was their iPhones. (I have to admit, I was communicating with my office at Stony Brook on my iPhone throughout the day. I was never totally focused on RISD) However, the students' themes had a common thread, they had a cause. The wanted to fix something that was wrong in the world. The Haitian earthquake, tyranny in Caracas, Venezuela, non-English speaking immigrants in Providence...all the master's candidates wanted to make a difference. Brilliant ideas, but their projects were incomplete. While reviewing a student's work, one of the panelists, Gia Wollfe, moved forward on the edge of her seat, and with a terse tone blended with a pleading passion in her voice, she directed the student, "You shouldn't have to explain your project. Your project should speak for itself. This time should be spent on us asking the questions, not you explaining your project." There were big holes, essential things were missing, with this crop of masters projects compared with the student projects a decade ago when Gia was a student.
The next day we worked at Cooper Union with Michael's drawing class hanging their best work for the end-of-the-year student show. I talked to some of the young, innovative professors at Cooper. Most of their students' proects fell short of their abilities. Michael complained of the same. As I walked around and talked to the students, their cellphones were out and their thumbs were busy moving across the keys as they texted and listened to me at the same time. When I asked them questions about their projects, they would acknowledge me with a nod and refrain from answering until they had finished their text. Looking up from their cellphones, they'd engage in conversation with me, always looking down at their cellphone screen for an incoming message. It would take a 5 second transition before they could focus and get into the depth of the conversation. There was a cognitive lag. The conversation would be cut short by that expected incoming message.
I went into the Cooper media lab that day and students were busy working on their projects. The silence was broken periodically with latest ringtones coupled with the vibrating thumping of cellphones gyrating across desks next to the computers. The students would move their fingers from the computer keyboard to their iPhones' simulated keyboards, pause 5 seconds in transition, then return to their computer keyboards.
Later that evening Michael and I had dinner with my cousin, Candace McCoy. Candace is a professor in Criminology at John Jay College. Her lament about her masters students' thesis projects matched John Hartman's and the Cooper professors', "The papers were lacking. They weren't complete. These are masters students. I've never seen this before."
Throughout the semester at Stony Brook University, across-the-disciplines, I heard the same general comment from faculty, "By the time the students hit the graduate level, they should know how to complete research projects." They don't get it. Something is missing. It's obvious the students of today aren't the same as a decade ago. They are hit from all sides with fast-paced, in-your-face media. They communicate non-stop. And, they want to change the injustice in the world. They want to help. They just can't find the time to get their thumbs off the cellphone keys to complete their thoughts. We, as educators, might have to look at different strategies with educating this generation. We certainly aren't going to make them put down their electronic devices, especially since we're using the devices ourselves.