The students are alright

Marketplace Staff Sep 7, 2010
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The students are alright

Marketplace Staff Sep 7, 2010
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: UCLA’s Anderson School doesn’t start its fall semester for another couple of weeks yet. But plenty of schools have already begun. Textbooks have been bought. Studying has started. Yeah right, maybe not that one. But class being in session has gotten commentator and college professor Dan Drezner thinking about the state of the modern student.


DANIEL DREZNER: Everyone knows that with the passing of Labor Day, a new batch of 18-year-olds begins their college years. What is less well-known is that this date also marks the start of teachers complaining about the latest crop of students. The refrain has been the same since the days of Socrates: The young people, they ain’t what they used to be. As a college professor, I’ve heard, and perhaps uttered, some of these complaints.

Recent data suggests, however, that this lament might contain some truth. A new University of California study reveals that the amount of time college students spend studying has plummeted over the past 50 years — from 24 hours a week in 1961 to 14 hours today. Perhaps this is because students have replaced real studying with cutting and pasting from Wikipedia. According to a recent story in the New York Times, current college students are less troubled by plagiarism than their professors.

So, are the kids today ruining everything? Not really. The research reveals that the overwhelming majority of the drop-off in studying time occurred between 1961 and 1981 — well before incoming freshmen were born. Indeed, one could argue that online innovations have made the current generation of students more productive studiers than prior generations. Maybe they study less now, but they also study more productively.

The attitudes towards plagiarism are potentially more troubling, but much of the Times’ information in the story seems to rest on anecdote rather than broad-based data. Well, here’s an anecdote of my own: I haven’t caught any of my students plagiarizing for the past decade. Of course, maybe I’m just a bad detective.

Some research suggests that as students matriculate, they develop a better understanding of plagiarism and try harder to avoid it. But it is also worth asking why students might possess more casual attitudes towards plagiarism. One reason: A number of celebrity professors have been caught cutting and pasting other people’s work too. These professors mostly got off with slaps on the wrist. No wonder students might be confused.

Today’s students are being bombarded with more information, more technology and more media than ever before. Some professors might say this leaves them brain-fried and desperate to use shortcuts. I say, to quote a recent movie title, that the kids are all right.

Ryssdal: Dan Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University.

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