Students shocked that they have to read and write in university classes

Latest reports show that many university students are seriously traumatised when they find out that they have to learn knowledge not known to them before. “In my class on the First World War they only talked about history!”, Eleanore tells us. Eleanore studies a bachelor of arts at UWRK-ULRN college. “We had to read books!”, adds her boyfriend John “and the lecturer really wanted to know from us what was written inside”. “Sometimes we have to read these articles, and boy, are they full of words”, adds another student in the group who doesn’t want to be named. “I thought it was really lazy of the lecturer that we had to read all that stuff by ourselves”, another one observed.

Often upon arrival in class students are shocked when they realise that their existing knowledge does not count. “I really love pandas, I have watched all Discovery Channel documentaries on them, that’s why I chose the topic of Panda Diplomacy for my essay”, Emerald recounts her experience in her class ‘Foreign Policy in Asia’. “I told the lecturer that I had never heard of panda being a diplomat but he just replied that I had to stop watching TV and read what was on the reading list! That was so rude!”

Many students reported their frustration that they had to read and write at university and how this threw them into spells of anxiety and depression. For students in social sciences and humanities words are particularly scary because there are so many of them. The sheer amount of words can be confusing like the number of jelly beans in the jar at the Christmas fair. Especially when it is assessment time students live in terror of not knowing how many words and footnotes are enough. The pressure to fill pages with words is a highly traumatising experience for many. Students feel seriously aggrieved that they cannot simply use any string of words they like. “When writing my essay about pandas, I said they live in South East Asia because, you see, that’s three words and ‘China’ is only one and you know I had to write 2000 words” explains Emerald “if I had said ‘China’ my essay would have been a third shorter and I’m sure I would have been penalized. But now I have a bad mark too and I’m really upset. I have put so much work into this, I wrote for three days without interruption and I read all the newspaper articles on my first google search page”, she adds. 

Our reporters have revealed even more terrorizing cases where lecturers do not even tell the student how much to write: “I once had a lecturer tell us that we can write between 1500 and 2000 words, can you believe that?”, John remembers. He recalls how he spent sleepless nights pondering what to do. If he wrote 1500 he’d spend a day less at the computer but what if his roommate wrote 1600 and get a better mark? In a particularly terrifying case students had to make a terrible choice whether to write two pieces of 1000 words or one of 2000 words. “I just didn’t know what to do”, Alex told us. “If I write two pieces I would have to write about two different things and isn’t that twice as much work? But then if I write one how am I going to fill the pages with so many words?” 

Many students feel particularly stressed since they are paying fees. “I pay all this money to the university and, seriously, they want me to read all that stuff?”, Tim points out. “All this reading makes my head spin. There should be really clear and precise rules how many words per penny we need to read so that we can be sure we get value for money.” Not all students blame the fees; some say that the university’s decision to hire lecturer who are not white, old men is clearly at fault. “My lecturer was a woman”, Alex says “I mean, she was nice and sort of pretty but, really, I shouldn’t be paying so much if I’m taught by a woman. Everyone knows they don’t want to do the job as I’m expecting them to do it”, he tells us and he gives an example right away “You know, I asked her what we had to do and, okay, she had said she doesn’t reply to emails over the weekend but, I mean, seriously what’s the harm to copy-paste from the syllabus? But no, she persevered and told me two days later that I should read the syllabus myself! I mean what good is she to the world of academia if she cannot even answer my question about what is in the syllabus?” Other students agreed with this. “With Dr. Smith (name altered) there was nothing to really helping the trying to figure out what was expected of me. She kept on giving all these lectures, hours and hours of them. But, honestly, I didn’t get it. I actually think she has some real talent and knowledge but what’s the point of talking so much? It really shows her incompetence, doesn’t it?”, John says. “And the worst, I think”, Alex  adds “was that there was no safe space to tell her how to do it right.  It was really hard to talk to her; she never came to me to ask me how I was doing. I had to go to her office and ask her how to deal with my word count because she would only send emails to everyone and not to me personally. Seriously I felt like she treated me like any other student!” 

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Note: This is a parody of student evaluations of teaching. The characters and situations in this parody are entirely fictional and not based on any real characters. However, the quotes are, unfortunately, not entirely fictional. They represent a small selection of mostly real comments that have been made in anonymous teaching evaluations; some have been transformed to fit the parody better but neither in tone nor meaning. Student evaluations of teaching are replete with extremely vicious  trolling, hilarious comments and heaps of unfounded, vague and clearly defaming accusations against lecturers, especially if these are women or people of colour.

It has been proven in a  number of projects that students often do not know what they have learnt or not in their class. A number of studies have also shown that student evaluations are discriminatory as they are heavily biased against women and people of colour. The design of evaluations often reinforces this bias. Evaluations also tend to be influenced by external factors such as the availability of cookies in class, or the weather. Student evaluations are believed to contribute heavily to teaching staff’s high levels of depression and anxiety. Yet, despite these studies, universities continue to use them, students continue to troll and teaching staff continue to be disciplined into the education-as-commodity logic of commercialising universities. 

I wrote this parody to allow us, university teachers, to laugh a bit about the sometimes highly aggressive but also hilarious comments we receive for our efforts to make students think critically about their political and social environment.