Why Aren’t They Doing the Work?

A colleague asked for an appointment this morning. She wanted to be sure she was properly reading the logs from the LMS. If you did not know, your LMS tracks everything that you do. What you clicked, when you clicked it, and from where you clicked it are all recorded by the LMS.

I have shown many faculty how to find these logs, so they do not have to ask me “Did students x really take the exam?” We have seen many instances in which a student logged on to take an exam in plenty of time to complete it before the due date, then disappeared from the LMS about the same time thunderstorms rolled through, and they claimed they lost connection.

In today’s instance, the faculty member was concerned about students “no doing to work.” She had noticed in the log several students not logging on to online courses except to join the weekly synchronous Zoom meeting. During individual meetings with students, she encouraged students to make sure to log on and access the videos, readings, and other activities she had posted to prepare for the class sessions. She showed me that after those meetings, students had indeed been logging on, but the logs documented students clicking on multiple items during the same minute.

My colleague asked, “are they really just clicking and still not doing the work?” and I answered, “yes, they are.”

She asked, “what do I do about it?”

“Change the last generation of educational practice,” was my answer.

In the 21st century, education has accepted the culture of data and learning outcomes that has been foisted upon us by politicians and philanthropists and their complicit shills in educational policy and leadership.

We can understand my colleague’s concern over her students’ lack of participation by looking at this intense interest on data and learning outcomes.

First, for the last several decades, we have heard that every course must be focused by learning outcomes. Students must be told what they are to learn and which standards they will help them achieve through the activity. Taken to the extreme, some teachers are expected to identify “I can…” statements for each lesson and those who do not post the for students to see (and also for school leaders who are walking through) may be disciplined.

Through backwards design, educators are told, they identify what students are to learn and how students are to demonstrate it. Ostensibly, we then plan lessons that will take students from the current state (in which they are assumed to not know the outcomes) to knowing the outcomes. What is lost here, however, is that the plan we make for students may not be the only way for a student to get to the outcomes.

Today, students may use generative AI to create a product, they may cheat, they may game the system; teachers may decide it was easier to inflate grades rather than fight with students or others about grades. Surely, the things they can do to appear to have learned the material is not new. Most of those have been available to me since I entered school in 1970.

What does seem to have changed is the focus of educators on those products that demonstrate learning outcomes. If we take the focus on outcomes to the extreme, we should not care which of the strategies students use. If we can document students jumped through the hoops we held for them, then we have evidence they met the learning outcomes.

Second, learning outcomes appears to be a particular flavor of educators attempt to be “data driven.” This is part of the insistence that educators be accountable. In k-12 education, data and learning outcomes and accountability comes down to test scores. If we see the scores we want, we should not care how they came about.

Of course, if there is systemic cheating, then we must address the fraud, but at some point, we must turn the other cheek and assume that “test preparation” is just good teaching. Teaching that is very likely inert.

Third, we see to be confusing generating the outcome that a “smart” person does with the ability to cognate like a “smart” person does. Teachers know the students who are connecting with the content. We see them puzzling in class, we hear their questions, we hear them pause before giving answers. Teachers know the students who aren’t connecting with the content but can bullshit with the best of them. (In honesty, most teachers bullshitted through more than one class, we get it.) Teachers know the students who are not connecting and do not have the capacity too. The best teachers avoid the long tradition of blaming the student for this.

So, we are we to do as educators? We have a generation of students (and educators and now parents) who were told that learning outcomes matters and the data they create are acceptable proxies for learning in students. We have a generation who have given over control of what they should learn (and teach) to standards writers and others. We have a generation who believe that if it cannot be measured, then it isn’t worthy.

We are fortunate that some students have seen through this. They are motivated to learn the materials through curiosity (unless it has been metaphorically beaten out of them). I see those students increasingly abandoning schools. We have only ourselves to blame.