Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Defensive Teaching

Last week we had a talk about students taking legal action against the university, which terrified lots of my colleagues. I have been lucky enough at my previous work to have three students take appeals against my course and two of them made it all the way to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Such cases are usually rare - in my case my cohort of MSc students was about 120 over the 5 years and I had 3 difficult students, so I have had more than my fair share.
I was thinking about these people in the context of the saboteur. These were students who came angry at the system and who thought that it should reward them in the way they wanted. They were paying £20,000, they had made it to this elite institution so they were brilliant and so they were going to get the brilliant marks they expected. Otherwise the system was letting them down. It was not their fault in anyway (I am reminded of the genetically perfect failures in GATACA).
  1. Student A: Did not get the marks he expected. He appealed and the external examiners remarked them and agreed with the given mark. He then found the name of the externals and checked their cv and wrote to them saying that they were unfit to judge his work. Eventually after he exhausted the appeals process he went to the OIA and they dismissed it almost instantly.
  2. Student B: Had a bad experience with his old university and appealed every mark he was given. When we eventually had enough and did not allow him to progress he appealed and accused the university of corruption and of selling degrees. Wisely he did not take that to the OIA but I had over 6 months of internal appeals.
  3. Student C: Was my project student. Projects are marked by supervisors and another marker. I read his draft and told him it would fail and how to change it. He ignored my advice and submitted it as it was. It failed. The external examiners agreed the fail. In the exam meeting a wrong mark was put on the sheet. This was crossed out and the correct mark entered, but he was sent this original where you could make out the crossed out mark. He appealed to the OIA claiming corruption and discrimination. They rejected his claim after consideration of the evidence, the key was having all the minutes and documents.
This kind of destructive student is a child having a tantrum and throwing their toys. In an online environment these sorts of postings with petty incriminations can destroy group cohesiveness. Even worse are the chinese whispers of the personal messaging and e-mails that you do not see.
The problem is as they pay more this will get worse. This was the cause of the break between Oxford and Cambridge. At Oxford the students bought tutors and had the control and so the tutors said forget that we are going to set up a place where we teach as we want and students learn according to our standards. 

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