I observed the professor in one class beginning the term by explaining that the students were expected to be creative and involved; in short, they were to be engaged. They would have the opportunity to take intellectual risks, to make mistakes. When I talked with the students in the class I discovered that many were quite surprised by his introductory statement; a few were puzzled and suspicious, others enthusiastic.Assuming Snyder’s basic description here is accurate, what do you make of this passage? On the one hand, it seems possible that the professor wanted to encourage the students to be creative and take intellectual risks in addition to mastering the information, not in lieu of it. On the other hand, that kind of performance is pretty rare, so maybe the grades did all come down to regurgitation in the end. Should the professor just have made himself clearer, or was there (as Snyder seems to imply) a larger problem than that?
Five weeks later the first quiz was given. The students found that they were asked to return a large amount of information that they could only have mastered by memorization. There was a considerable discrepancy between the students’ expectations for the course and what they were in fact expected to learn in order to pass the quiz. In spite of the professor’s opening pronouncements, the hidden but required task was not to be imaginative or creative but to play a specific, tightly circumscribed academic game.
The consequences for the students varied: some became cynical and said, “Okay, if that’s the way you play the academic game, if that’s what he really wants, I won’t make the same mistake again. Next time I’ll memorize the key points.” Some students were discouraged and simply withdrew emotionally from the class, though they nominally remained in attendance and received satisfactory grades. But a large group approved the quiz. They had been apprehensive about their capacity to do original work and were relieved to find that rote memory would suffice to get a superior grade. Students of this latter group were, interestingly, the least likely to consult the college psychiatrist.