Classes resume Monday, and I have been entering the grades in my grade book (which stayed here) for the papers I corrected over Christmas (which did not). Doing this, I discovered that six students out of 35 in my SF Lit class had neglected to email me their papers. German university students may drop a course at any time without penalty, so they sometimes sign up for a large number of courses, choosing everything that looks interesting. Then, if the work load becomes overwhelming, they drop one or more courses. That may have happened here -- which brings me to two different philosophies of university education, both of which were being debated as long ago as when I first started teaching college thirty years ago.
One philosophy -- call it the Educational Contract -- says that student and professor enter into a contract. I will deliver this (instruction) and you will deliver this (required reading, attendance, written work, exams, whatever the contract says). We will both strive to deliver interesting and reliable products, with the end goal that learning takes place. If either of us fails to deliver, that party is penalized, whether it's the professor (poor evaluation, trouble with Department Head, denial of tenure) or the student (poor grade). This is, pretty much, how American universities work.
The other model we'll call the Hamburger Stand Philosophy. It says: The student has purchased a product (instruction), whether you define "purchased" as costing money, good grades in high school, or a grant or scholarship. Having purchased this product, he is free to do with it as he likes: use it, ignore it, drop it, use part of it and then ignore it. It's his choice, without penalty -- nobody penalizes you if you don't eat your McDonald's hamburger. It's your
Which of these works best to foster actual learning? In my opinion, it doesn't really matter. A student who wants to learn about SF -- in or out of college -- will do so. I hope that my classes make that learning more interesting and provocative and effective (otherwise, there's little point). But those qualities are not what grades measure, anyway. So I will teach as best I can, and hope my students are learning as best they can. No more is possible for the best instructor who ever taught anything.