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Vada a bordo!
by Jussi Kangasharju
(Instead of a literal translation, I've chosen to translate the meaning of the title. As the most astute of you may have already noticed, the title is not in English, but in fact in Italian and recapitulates the words of Italian Coast Guard Captain De Falco when "encouraging" Captain Schettino, the captain of the sinking cruise ship Costa Concordia, to go back on board the ship to coordinate the rescue. The intended meaning is: "Stop whining and start doing your job!")
This article is mainly me venting my frustration, since over the past year or so, I've noticed that the laziness and general lack of effort have reached completely unexplored peaks. Although this article is only my personal opinion, in the discussions with many other teachers in the department, I've heard very similar experiences on their part as well.
Why laziness and lack of effort? Because the problem seems to be mainly in the general attitudes of the students and in particular their attitude towards studying. The following are examples from the real world:
- In the Scientific Writing course (bachelor's thesis), more and more students drop out, often without informing the instructor. A few years ago this kind of behavior was almost unheard of.
- Same phenomenon appears more frequently in seminars as well. Sometimes these disappearing students inform the instructor, but most simply disappear and won't even answer our queries about whether they are planning to continue or not. In the most popular seminars, there are more people applying than there are places in the seminar, so these dropouts might have taken places from students who would have completed the seminar.
- In one seminar, it had been agreed that two students should coordinate the contents of their articles so that they would not overlap too much. One of them disappeared silently, leading to the other one waiting for an answer, and not being able to complete the article in time. Is it correct to sabotage the studies of other students like this?
- Particularly international students are guilty of rampant plagiarism (in last year's Distributed Systems course, one third of the students were found guilty of plagiarism; all failed the course). Some know that they have done wrong and even know how to write correctly, but simply won't bother to do the right thing. Wilder excuses include "in my country plagiarism is not considered a problem". Listen, in this country it is a problem. (Yes, the orientation course for international students does spell out what is acceptable and what is not. If you want to get a master's degree, understanding something as simple as that cannot be too hard for you to grasp.)
- Yet another story are students "working" on their master's thesis. Trust me, we've heard all possible excuses, even up to "my roommate's cousin's dog had a bit of diarrhea, which shocked me to such an extent that I had a mental block for half a year and wasn't able to progress". Writing your thesis is not difficult. It's just an extended bachelor's thesis (or a bit more than twice the length of a seminar paper in my seminars). A master's thesis does not change the world and does not contain any new scientific knowledge. These belong in a doctoral dissertation and even there the bar is relatively low on these scores. (I admit that the department's official guidelines for master's thesis make it sound much worse than it is; these should be adapted.)
Many of our students work during the studies and I fully comprehend that combining full-time work with studies is really difficult, if not impossible; after all there are only 24 hours in a day, a fact of which I'm also painfully aware. If you can't handle both, you need to prioritize. Which is more important, work or graduation? (For those complaining about the workload in the courses: Yes, we could probably adjust the number of credits per course, but if we do that by increasing the number of credits, the workload in a course remains the same, and I'd guess we'd be at the same situation as today.)
Are we teachers perfect? Of course not and all of us could could make improvements in many ways. But take a wild guess what our motivation for large changes and improvements is, when we're faced with the above "hobbyist" students? You've made your bed, now lie in it.
To be honest, of course we have also excellent students in the department, although it feels like they are in a minority. Working with them is a pleasure, even an honor and they help us teachers get through the rest. To these students, I want to say that don't be afraid that we'd lump you with the "bad ones"; every teacher knows who you are. :-)
With that out of my system, I'd like to ask where do we go from here? What can we teachers do? What can students do? Good suggestions and ideas are welcome.
The CS Blog Task Force
Aaron is doing his PhD in the NODES group at the CS department. His research focuses on mobile computing and energy efficient design for multi-interfaced mobile devices.
Giulio is a Professor at the CS department. His area is Human-Computer Interaction. For more information, please find his homepage here
Doris is a researcher at the CS department and HIIT, doing her PhD in the neuroinformatics research group. Her research interests include graphical models, causal discovery, and time series.