Thursday, 28 May 2009

Knowledge Gaps

On one level things in the Drama department are quieter this week. The final essays and portfolios of the year have been submitted and the pro-plussed, bleary eyed, libraried- out students have gone off to celebrate, sleep a little and await the results.

For the lecturers it's an intense period of assessment, reading, moderating and cross checking the work ready for the exam boards towards the end of next week.

There's a lot to do but displacement activity comes in thinking of the future and wondering what kind of changes, amendments and initiatives we can carry forward into next year. It's amazing how much marking a bunch of essays can reveal about how we're doing in terms of equipping students with the knowledge they'll need and it's clear to me that somewhere we've missed a trick. In the main the practical work coming out of the department is good, but there are some problems with the more structured academic writing.

I suspect that we don't pay enough attention to current developments in schools and colleges and rather assume that the students arrive ready and confident at taking notes, researching and structuring their findings into argument. I'm not sure we should.

The generation of students who we are currently recruiting come with a very different skills set to those who were coming into HE even ten years ago. They strike me as the retrieval generation, able very quickly to network, communicate and download information. They read visual information brilliantly and can process hundreds of signifiers simultaneously. Gratification seems quick and necessary. They're not as skeptical as my generation and more open to each other.

The difficulty is that, with some very impressive exceptions, there is less ability in focusing on one thing for a period of time, which makes reading or even looking at something for an extended period, difficult. The formal lecture is a tough call partly, I suspect, because of distrust in any experience which isn't multi sensory. Sometimes a cliche will replace a genuine observation, a fact will be mistaken for an opinion and a belief will stand in as a fact. The categories are blurred and this does pose a threat to our standard expectation of academic study.

The question is should we invest time, energy and resources in training students to develop a disciplined stylistic approach and rigour or offer alternative ways for them to express their ideas.

It could be quite a struggle!

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