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Minds Destroyed By The Internet

STEM professor: my students can't process written text, think logically

A reader who is also a college professor in a STEM field e-mails to say:

My students are unable to analyze, follow and understand written text. To be more specific, they are unable to decipher compound sentences, understand relationship between subordinate and main clauses. They can’t grasp the logical relationship between sentences, let alone paragraphs, which are totally opaque to them.

When I started to teach (only 2 years ago), I prepared material written in normal, rational, technical prose — for adults, or as I understood they would be. Immediately, it became apparent that there was zero comprehension. Well, thought I, let’s make it a bit simpler. So I reduced the paragraphs to bullet point lists.

Still nothing? Hmm.

I started to write step by step, basically cut-and-paste instructions, highlighted the important points, wrote in notes and cross references (like NOTE: you did this in step #2 please refer to #2). Abject failure.

So, especially in the exams, I started to write in answers in the follow up questions, like so: “If you correctly answered #1 as ABC what is the cause of …?”. Basically I give them the answers in followup questions, plus cut and paste documents. My exams are open book, open notes, Internet access.

95% of them fail.

This is what I attribute this phenomenon to: I don’t think that they are able to concentrate for more that a few seconds. Hence compound sentences become an enigma. Their brains are ’trained’ to hold information for the minimum time possible and to move on the next soundbite or tweet. They are unable to hold a thought in their minds long enough to abstract it, analyze it, and form required relationships. As a result they lack the fundamental building blocks for inductive and deductive reasoning. They want to be spoon-fed without ever having to resort to a single abstract thought. They have been ‘educated’ by quick turnaround, expensive and largely incorrect multiple choice question textbooks.

Imagine how this would (and soon will) affect the medical profession. “When you treat appendicitis you will remove a) spleen, b) heart, c) appendix, d) none of the above. “Well, done!” Here is your first patient … (or, in Dr. Zoidberg’s context: Scalpel!, Blood bucket! Priest!).

Their problem is that they are unable to formulate questions. It’s difficult to come up with answers if you don’t know what to ask. So I tell them that my ambition is to teach them how to ask questions. They love my classes but I am told repeatedly: “This was the best class we have had but by far the most difficult.”

Good grief. We have totally destroyed this generation.