Slackademia

Teaching can be rewarding (though not financially). I recently finished my third year as a visiting tutor at Massey University's design school at the Albany campus in Auckland.

This year the experience wasn't very positive - or, perhaps, it was.

I am worried about the calibre of students. Universities have become very competitive in their drive to fill seats in classes. Students have become economic units - EFTs. As a result I believe the entry requirements are not rigorous enough and, as a result, graduating students are benchmarked against a low bar. Though my students are studying design I was shocked by their lack of literacy - by that I mean familiarity with contemporary and historical thought about the subject of design and its associated fields. With few exceptions the quality of written presentations was dire. I found little to enjoy whn marking essays or written assignments.

Perhaps most worrying was a lack of real inquiry. Often thoughts progressed little further than what could be cut and pasted from the Wikipedia. Some students would suggest a research topic at the beginning of a semester. When counseled about the merit of their proposal some would struggle to get their heads around a) that 'good enough isn't good enough' - having been spoon-fed and coddled through-out their entire educational life b)ideas take work to develop - I don't remember who said it but"There is nothing more dangerous that an idea - if it the only one you have."
There was little apparent (to me) desire to explore ideas in original or new ways. Risk was avoided at all costs.

My students were all nice kids but I feel they have been let down by a systemic failure to challenge them or instill a sense of discipline or drive. One or two showed promise, but they will emerge into the world after a fourth year of study with degrees, some craft skills but will remain, functionally clueless.

Visiting the graduation shows for Massey, AUT and Auckland University I felt depressed at the thought that we might have reached a 'sputnik' moment - where we will be overtaken by emerging countries. Without a considerable amount of energy going into rigorous, disciplined exploration of ideas - with brilliant execution we are going to find our design industries and the potential for growth are stunted. We need to shake the flabby post-modern irony and cynicism and remember that a Magnum Opus is a great WORK and not a sneering mash-up in the latest style trend.

(In three years I never over-heard an impassioned discussion about design or design issues happening between students - is there something in the water?).

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