Sunday, 19 October 2008

A 'How to...' Guide

I've been keeping an eye on the series 'How to be a Student' on the Guardian's Education pages, partly because some of the columns are useful but mostly because of the humour contained within them (and of course, its partly due to the disbelief that some people will indeed need a 'how to..' guide in order to cope). I was re-reading them this evening and was struck at how obvious some of the advice is, yet after seeing many of the first years around the university they do seem to need it, as they fail to understand how to use pavements (those are not areas to stop and chat, especially when they're only a metre wide to start with) or queue in the library to get access to the manned help-desk (there is a sign saying 'queue here' for a reason you know).

Many tend to deal with more superficial elements (how to get money out of your parents, how to make friends, how to get rid of friends) but others, especially those about dealing with lecturers and tutors, essay writing, note taking, what to do in lectures, etc. are actually quite useful. Part of me wonders if these columns are actually worth hanging on to and giving to new students in order to give them an idea on what is expected.

The best one that appeared recently discussed the transition from school to university, which is a jump not many students actually realise exists. This was drummed into me in many of my first year tutorials, when they were asking questions about their first essay - which is due tomorrow (oh joy). The questions they wanted to know the answers to often depended heavily on the premise that I would tell them what to do. Alarmingly this also involved one asking since one of the essays was on one ancient text, could their bibliography consist of that and nothing else. They did seem surprised at the idea that they would have to research ideas presented in other publications. Perhaps I was lucky during my school education to have opportunities for independent research, working with materials other than the designated course books - but I would have expected that first year students should be aware of the fact that 1-book bibliographies are not acceptable.

On the other hand, the difficulty that appears to stress most of the students over the first essay, which relates to gender is whether immortal gods can be used as examples of male/female, e.g. Hermes is male, therefore he can be used as an example of a male character and what does he do for the content or plot? This seems to be panicking them a lot, given the number of alarmed messages being put on the course discussion site - surely they should have a idea of who is male or female? Shouldn't they?