After two weeks of commencement and graduation related posts, I was anticipating that I’d go a different direction this week, but my brain is stuck here. So, you’ll have to forgive me for another post on this topic. This one offers a different take, though. At my daughter’s commencement this past weekend, the dean of the college at my daughter’s university gave a short speech that I’ve been reflecting on a bunch since I heard it.
Dr. Jen Bacon is the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at West Chester University. In her opening speech, she relayed a memory an English class she had taken in elementary school. Since she was a mindful and dedicated student, Dean Bacon explained that she focused on the rubric that the teacher had offered for a poetry assignment and was doing all of the required components so she could earn her desired grade. Is it two stanzas long? Check. Does it rhyme? Check. Is it related to nature? Check. At this point in the speech, Dean Bacon read a section of the poem to the commencement audience. She then said that her elementary teacher refused to accept the poem. “You have completed the assignment, but haven’t done the work,” her teacher explained.
In her speech, Dean Bacon used that sentiment to capture the obstacles that the graduating students have endured and the challenges they’re likely to face moving forward. It was a way for her to motivate the graduates to fully engage in all that work and life is going to throw at them in their post-college worlds. Don’t just complete the assignment. Do the work. Engage.
I love that sentiment, but I want to position it next to some other conversations I’ve been hearing lately. The world is abuzz with artificial intelligence (AI) fears. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’ve written about ChatGPT and how it’s going to shake up our classrooms and so many other industries. Campuses are busily reviewing and rewriting their plagiarism and academic honesty policies to better reflect the post-AI world. Teachers are rightfully concerned about the potential impacts that these tools will have on the assignments that students submit. They’re worried students won’t actually do the work and just have AI tools complete the assignments. They’re worried students are going to take academic short cuts to avoid doing the heavy lifting of learning.
I understand and share these concerns. I agree that we have to do more to ensure that our students are actually doing the work for the assignments and projects in our classes. But I worry that revising policies and giving motivational speeches isn’t enough. As educators, we have to do the work, too. For us, “doing the work” means taking a hard look at the assignments and projects in our classes and revising them to better connect to our students’ lives. Assignments that may have worked with a different group of students at a different time and place may not resonate with these students today. If we want our current students to avoid academic short cuts and do the heavy lifting of learning, we have to do some work on our own to make sure the projects and papers we assign are more meaningful to them.