I was marking essays on the train this afternoon and came across this:
Secondly, e-learning can enhance the coagulate power and centripetal for the coworker.
I puzzled briefly (centralise power, corporate identity, workers' solidarity) wearied of puzzling, moved on. I have twenty of these to get through by Friday, so I'm buggered if I am going to spend ages trying to interpret every lexical train-wreck.
The perpetrators of this batch of essays are a bunch of very lively graduate students from China, Japan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. They are a gift: this course is usually so intensive and fraught, and it is such a joy to have an enthusiastic, good-humoured group of people who enjoy each others' company and pretty much teach themselves. (They like my CDs, too - we groove to Dobet Gnahore in our group-work sessions.) At the essay planning stage, Yoshiko from Japan, who knows I have the teensiest smatterette of Japanese, showed me a list of ideas whose relevance and interdependence escaped me. I asked her how she was going to integrate them. She did a classic bit of Japanese 'high-context' communication on me: after a slow intake of breath through the teeth, head inclined to the left, she whispered 'muzukashi!' meaning 'it's difficult'.
'Muzukashiku nai!' No it isn't! I said, in the sort of hearty jollying-you-along style I can't abide when people do it to me.
Yoshiko went back to her seat looking quite upset. Here I am, I thought, about to start teaching my MA module on intercultural communication for the second time next month, and I have completely forgotten something I've known for years: the whispered 'muzukashi!' means literally 'it's difficult' but it carries extra baggage, viz: 'I'm not sure of my ground here, so please do not ask any more questions.' What a clod I must have seemed.
I have another much less lively group. This morning's lesson proceeded like a seance. I texted the course director at the break to inform her that if news reached her that eighteen Chinese students had been gunned down in cold blood over at the Hawley Crippen building, I was the perp and I regretted nothing. This afternoon I did a few tutorials with some of these students. We ask stuff like 'how do you feel about the course?' 'Can you suggest any improvements?' and that sort of thing. The responses were mostly positive: teachers are kind and patient (we are good actors, anyway) but a couple said the lessons are sometimes boring.
'They are if you sit there like a bloody Guy Fawkes on a street corner,' I pointed out kindly.
'I have a friend at another university in the UK,' said one girl, 'and the teacher gives them rewards if they get things right.'
'What kind of rewards?' I asked.
I had to check I'd heard that right. I had. Now listen love, I'm not sure I approve of that practice even at infant school level, but I am most definitely not handing out fucking sweeties to undergraduates, so you can put that right out of your mind. Even with my class of Trappists, we've had some lively lessons with lots of laughs, but there's this sense from several of the kids I talked to today of their entitlement to be entertained, of the expectation that they see no reason to participate unless the activity proposed seems suitably japesome and larky. Well, at some point you have to learn how to write an essay, follow a lecture, make a presentation and compile a bibliography. With some ingenuity, we tutors could devise games intended to practise all these things, but why the hell should we keep sugaring the pill? Surely the way we actually teach, by setting up the conditions in which students find out for themselves through discussion and guided discovery, is interesting enough in itself? I wish I could find this teacher who's handing out jelly babies for every correctly formatted in-text reference, and tell her to bloody well cut it out. We shouldn't have to bribe university students into learning, damn it.
Lest I sound like I'm always complaining, it's September, my favourite month, and Autumn, my favourite season, approaches. You should see the colour of the sky from my sitting-room window right now. A baby spider is traveling like a minute cable car along a thread that joins a houseplant to a vase of flowers. There is darkness at a proper time, none of your insipid ten p.m. light that makes the British summer seem like endless insomnia. I'm thinking of wild rice, mushrooms, dark greens, roasting sweet red peppers, red wine, and thanks to a bunch of teachers arriving next month from Thailand, I'll be able to afford them, at least until December.
Then I'll start complaining.