Today I had three different students send me nearly identical emails: "My TA in your class is ______. I didn't write down his email address on the first day of class. How do I get in touch with him?"

Granted, these are freshmen. I assume most of them are 18 or 19. But here's the thing. If one visits the university homepage, the first thing at the top page is the name and logo of the school.

Immediately to the right of that is a large white box that says "FIND PEOPLE" with a blank line and a search button. The explanation cannot be laziness, can it? Certainly it took more time to email me (and await a response) than to open the most obvious website for finding this information, putting the TA's name into a search box, and hitting enter.

I have this kind of interaction with undergraduates constantly. Constantly. Often people question my honesty when I tell stories of some of the requests for information students make. For example, last fall at least 1/4 of my 325 intro American Politics students emailed me or asked me in person, "Where do I vote?" Exasperated, I went to class on Election Day, opened a browser on the projection screen, and typed "Where do I vote?" into Google. One-fiftieth of a second later, Google produced a line to enter one's address and then, another fraction of a second later, a detailed map of one's polling location.

These anecdotal findings are supported by a new study at five Illinois colleges of students' ability to find information and do research on the internet.
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The headline sums up the results: College Students Stumped by Search Engines. I'll go one step farther and say that not only are they stumped by search engines, they're stumped merely by the need for information.

The idea of using a search engine to find it doesn't even occur to most of them. I have been asked the following questions in my teaching career:

  • Is there a website where I can read the Constitution?
  • How do I attach something to email?
  • Where can I order the textbook from?
  • How do I find articles about ________? (x1000)
  • I simply cannot comprehend how college students can attain this level of information illiteracy. Search engines are designed so that a child can use them successfully; you type a word in a box and it gives you websites about that thing, be it "Constitution", the name of a textbook, or literally any fathomable topic. Somehow about half of the students I encounter at a decent university cannot do this.
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    More accurately, it doesn't even dawn on them to try to find the information they need. They just ask someone, or they remain silent and go without it.

    How can this be? These are "The Millennials", the generation raised on the internet. I see them every day, glued to their laptops and mobile devices. They probably spend anywhere from six to twelve hours every day online. And we are constantly subjected to cloying articles and news stories about how the U.S. has a generation of little tech wizards on the way. Unfortunately their talents with this hand-held mobile wireless technology appear to be limited to sending text messages and staring at Facebook. Maybe some of them shop online too.

    Yet even that much should be sufficient to give them basic facility with search engines. To find someone on Facebook, you put a name in the search box. To find Katy Perry's latest masterwork on Amazon, you search "Katy Perry." What is the disconnect here? How is it that they can find Joe Blow on Facebook or use the search function on a retail website but when they need to find out who wrote Federalist 10 they can't connect the dots? When they need to write a paper on the 1994 election, why doesn't it seem logical to start with a search term like "1994 election" and go from there?

    The basic skills and comprehension of how websites work appear to be present. The part that baffles me is why they seem so unable to find out things they need to know. Whatever the explanation, I feel confident that the relationship between Millennials and technology is being misrepresented considerably.

    79 thoughts on “TECH WIZARDS”

    • The nice people who give the typical sales pitch to our university for their electronic gewgaws tell us that today's kids are tech-savvy digital natives, and so the only way that we can reach these digital natives is buy said gewgaws. And I compare the talk of today's tech-savvy students with the e-mails that say, "Dr. [Redacted], the PDF of our reading is on its side and I don't have a printer! I can't read a sideways document. What do I do?!?!" Except, of course, that they don't use such tech-savvy terms as PDF. So yeah, today's tech-savvy digital natives can't figure out how to right-click and select Rotate Clockwise.

    • In fairness, a lot of universities have online directory systems that are populated with out of date information, or just work really badly. Not to defend your clueless students on the other points (I'm two years out of college, and I know what you mean), but have you actually tried finding your TAs via said "find people" function to confirm that it actually performs as advertised?

    • Middle Seaman says:

      You have to see your shrink immediately. You are teaching in a pre-school.

      At 3, my older grandson demanded that I go to (had no difficulty saying that) and find presents for him. He knew about YouTube, where he watched car crashes, and It is difficult for me to even start to comprehend your litany. I never saw anything even remotely resembling you sad reality.

    • Sometimes I wonder if at least some of this sort of thing isn't a form of goldbricking in the vein of Bill Cosby's routine about the less you seem to know how to do, the less you'll have to do. Emailing you for information they could easily search for might count as doing something and moving the point at which the inquirer has to do something else to whenever they hear back from you.

      But that's still counter-productively insane, even if I can imagine some tortured rationale for some of it. And I suspect there are many who don't have to feign incompetence.

    • And yet, if students chose to plagiarize, they have no problem finding data online!

      I'm not sure if I've encountered this issue myself. However, I do sometimes wonder if students occasionally think of themselves as customers of the university and think of TAs, instructors, and professors as something like clerks in a giant store. In that case, wasting your time with silly questions isn't just about their awkwardness with data. It's about seeing you as someone whose job it is to take care of them.

    • Goldbricking, certainly, but also: laziness. They could be sitting on a pair of scissors, and instead of looking for them, would ask if you knew where they were.

      Back in myyyy day, we tried to look smart for teacher, for teacher would give us the sharp reply, sparing us the BS known as "there are no stupid questions!" And yet there were many nimrods, legacies, and dumb-grinds-with-good-grades who still asked idiotic questions — even when all we had was Facts on File, the World Almanac, and vellum inked in soot and suet. Same problem, different search engine.

    • I think Chase Says is probably on to something, with 'making their lives easier' seen as part of your job description. Also, I'm sure some of this is helicopter-parenting fallout. "Mom, I need a [thing] for [purpose]" having always resulted in parent procuring said thing.

    • On the other side of the coin, it is interesting to observe the tenured fossils trying to catch up with the techno-pedagogical advances of the past several decades. Watching them grapple with dvds and PowerPoint slides is always amusing. They, however, have an excuse: they're ancient, they have been using projectors and chalkboards for the majority of their career. The current college generation grew up with this stuff.

    • Did you ever stop to think, Ed, that perhaps that's precisely what you should be teaching them? As an employer (now retired), one of the main characteristics I looked for in a job applicant was the presence of a capacity for independent thought. University degrees, any university degree, used to be an indicator of its presence; today: not so much.

      Whose fault is that, Ed?

    • Did you ever stop to think, Ed, that perhaps that's precisely what you should be teaching them? As an employer (now retired), one of the main characteristics I looked for in a job applicant was the presence of a capacity for independent thought. University degrees, any university degree, used to be an indicator of its presence; today: not so much.

      Whose fault is that, Ed?

      Should Ed also be responsible for teaching them how to dress themselves? University degrees were respected in your employing days because they indicated the completion of a fairly rigorous work program. Now you want them to indicate they're been comprehensively instructed on how to type a search phrase into Google? I fail to see how that raises the stature of said degree.

    • Y'know, I teach research writing courses and I don't find this *at all*. 99% of the time a student tells me they can't find something, it's because they just didn't try. As soon as I challenge them at all, e.g., "What terms did you use to look for it?" (especially when this happens by e-mail), the answer is, "Oh, never mind, I found it, thanks)."

      They need help learning how to *evaluate* sources they find on the web, but they have very little trouble finding them.

      I've been seeing this study fly around the listservs for a week now. I guess I better oughta read it.

    • Middle Seaman says:

      In about 30 year career at a university, I have never encountered anything even similar to that. In one class my undergrads prepare presentations new material every other week. It's a lot of Internet finding, understanding and selecting. They are doing a marvelous job.

    • Grumpygradstudent says:

      And if you openly displayed any sort of annoyance at their laziness, they would fill your teaching eval. with comments about how rude and disrespectful and unapproachable you were.

      Teaching evaluations=worst assessment tool ever.

    • To be honest, as one of these 'millenials', I would chalk it up to laziness, not stupidity. Which yes, doesn't make sense, because it's more effort in the end. But I think it combines with the fact that, even though we somewhat grew up with this technology, the default is still set to "ask another person" rather than "ask the internet." I have perfectly competent and intelligent friends who will ask me simple questions – while chatting online – that they could have more quickly figured out themselves with a 2 second search. It's like a weird stubborn hanger-on in our psyche. And maybe another part of it is that we trust information more that comes from someone we know rather than the dubious veracity of a majority of the internet. We generally just accept information from friends and people we trust, but searching on the internet means the additional work of verifying the source.

    • "Emailing you for information they could easily search for might count as doing something and moving the point at which the inquirer has to do something else to whenever they hear back from you."

      I think Noskilz has the most important answer: procrastination. Also there's the psychological angle: you're so damned charismatic the kids just can't get close enough to you. Seriously, asking questions, any kind of question, is one more way of getting close to the Prof, feel out who he is, what he wants (OK, he OR she), all balm for the insecure and/or pampered. We all want a tutor, after all, to be THE student, because we're so fucking special.

    • pomeroy41144 says:

      One interpretation (perhaps overly charitable to the students in question), is that these students view you, the Professor, as an abriter of the truthiness of the information about which they're asking. E.g., yes, they can find 100's of places to read the Constitution on-line, but many of them will contain links to revisionist, tea party misinterpretations alongside the actual text of the Constitution. So, what these students are asking is not "where can I read the Constitution?" but rather, "as an expert on the matter, where do you recommend that I go to read the Constitution?"

      It's not that these students can't find these sources, it's that they recognize sifting through pages of dubious links is a poor use of their time, especially when they have an expert like yourself at their disposal. As tuition-payers, they expect you to have filtered through the crap and know where to find the good stuff.

    • Matt Stoller says:

      Mass laziness is not an analytically useful answer. I'd also like to know what is going on.

      Have you ever asked students why they don't know how to use Google? I'd be curious what they say. I suspect the most honest ones will be students who use Google as sophomores but didn't know how to do it as freshmen.

    • Glad to read about the youngsters who have always known the word "online" yet exhibit no ability or inclination to seek info on "the search engine."

      I work in radio. Answering the public's phone inquiries is a daily opportunity to practice my actor's double-take. My palm is sore from smacking my forehead. My faith in humanity is tested on a daily basis. Truly, there is a widening gap between those who can and do, and those who don't know what they can do.

      And the latter group will not even check online to find out.

    • Some of those students are just trying to suck up by trying to appear to be interested: They think the PhD makes you special.

    • Fraktur Antiga says:

      speaking of tech literacy, love the blog, have a few tech mods for your WP theme:
      add list-style: disc inside none; to your main stylesheet (at line 330) to make the bullets be indented rather than outside the text… also close your list so it looks better!

    • part of the reason may be laziness, but I think the "group project/study" mentality is also a factor. so many more class assignments are group projects than in my undergrad days (20 yrs. ago) . if I look around the libraries on my campus there are tons of tables with a screen and multiple outlets to plug in everyone's laptop. Studying is a social activity with students asking each other questions before going in search of the information. I have often found that by the time I reply to such a "where do I find…" email, the student has already found their answer, I was just one of many directions of inquiry, but usually they start with people they know, since they assume everyone is online and responding to email at all times.

    • I think Pomeroy is on to the answer. It isn't ignorance or straight laziness. It is a desire to go to the source and have the correct answer.

      There are two problems with this. 1) it undermines our attempts to foster in students the ability to sift through the dregs of the internet to find what they need as well as the willingness to take responsibility for correctly finding said information. 2) It reveals to us that they see us a menial servants whose time they have purchased.

    • There are a couple general problems I've noticed.

      One is information compartmentalization: many students do in fact have experience searching for things, but they've either been trained or have internalized that every field is its own domain with its own ways of doing things, and really just don't make the logical connection between, say, searching for a song on Amazon and searching for a journal article. They have difficulty drawing on their past experiences and applying them in a new context.

      Another is that students love to think things are more difficult than they really are; I can sit a random student in front of a computer, ask them to do something that'd take 10 seconds, and they'll sit there for 5 minutes second-guessing themselves about what I really asked and if I'm trying to trip them up and what the individual words in my statement all meant, etc.

    • I think it's pure laziness, an attribute many Americans share. I worked at an environmental non-profit for several years and we always were fielding calls for questions that had nothing to do with our work and for which the answers could easily be found in a 2-second google search. It's not just students, it's Americans in general that are like this.

    • I know a young adult with well-off, attentive parents who graduated from a good suburban high school without reading one single book from start to finish. She is kind, unselfish and happy, and no doubt votes Republican like her parents. She did very well in high school and college and now works for an important firm making very good money. I have no doubt that she became very successful by following instructions carefully and regurgitating teachers' information. Thinking for herself probably would have hurt her career path; she might not have been able to accept a life of conformity spent in the pursuit of earning money instead of creative intellectual activity.

    • Elder Futhark says:

      "Is it me who is stupid, or are there others who are not so stupid?' – Chuang Tse

      "All the world is a nail to an idiot with a hammer." – Me

      Which is to say, you are fucking stupid. Yes, you. The person reading this right now. You are so fucking stupid there are few things in this universe to comapre you with.

      And the person who wrote the fucking essay at the top. He is fucking stupid too.

      And there is perhaps only a fraction, maybe .0001% of the population, who is keeping us all from going down the drain altogether.

      Thank the God of All Hammers that intelligence is only marginally genetic, else there'd be quite a line for the stunhammer.

    • I forgot to add–there are no books in her parents' home. They play sports and socialize. I forget, sometimes, that my habits of reading constantly and analyzing everything to death is not the way most people want to live. Reading is unpleasant and thinking is complicated and they are too busy to wallow in such self-indulgent activities when there is so much necessary work to do.

    • True story: I was working in the computer lab on my college campus 'bout a decade ago now, and I overheard the girl next to me perkily report that she needed information for a paper on Tanzania, saying "I'm going to go to" I wanted to slap her.

      Having said that, I've carved out a gratifying (if not lucrative) niche as the Finder of All Knowledge, Common or Arcane. If people figure out how to create their own search strings, I will lose the ability to wield that power like a club.

    • Elder, I feel your pain. It's so difficult to be superior when nobody else realizes how special you are. Here we are, very nearly the only two truly intelligent, creative, noble-yet-humble geniuses in the world, yet we are forced to martyr ourselves on the cross of the looters and moochers' inferiority. If only we had a place to set up our own isolated superior society and let the rest of the world burn.

    • Monkey Business says:

      Like every other generation, there are large portions of Millennials that have zero intellectual curiosity (hence the Republican Party's continued success) and, more importantly, even less of a desire to learn new skills. They are, simply put, mentally lazy. Consequently, asking someone to do something for them is their first recourse, rather than undertaking the effort of finding out how to do it for themselves.

    • I am a 30+ year veteran of Silicon Valley and its environs. This is not something new. I cannot count the number of times someone whines to me how they can't find some piece of critical information and they can't do their job. 30 seconds later after typing one search phrase into Google, scanning the links and clicking one I give them their data. Back when it was data books and spec sheets it was a bit more time consuming and less obvious. Some people just were not aware of connections between various media. Then Google and its ilk came along and the search became somewhat easier, but there were still large gaps. Now days EVERYTHING is there. I thought that maybe they were just being lazy or intimidated by their current project but fuck me, no, they really have no clue how to research some of the most basic information. They cannot formulate the query. Keywords boggle them.

      We are so fucked.

    • So I guess all that stuff about the declining need for libraries and librarians is crap. Hooray!

      PS maybe build a library/research day or two into the first week of your curriculum if you don't already? I'm sure the info literacy person or people would be happy to help with the google issue/ teach them about the university website and databases so they don't just rely on google to find articles and research materials.

    • Hi folks. It's been a while. The part that scares me is that these little geniuses will be managing the nursing homes I will be warehoused in to die.

    • Ha…maybe all those kids are preparing to be attorneys. I get those questions all the time (except the Constitution one) at work.

      Seriously, though? My impression is that The Millenials are kids who have had everything done for them in their lives. They ask and they get. So they really start with asking someone else to do their task first.

    • My best/worst question ever from a student: "Is the library open at weekends?" Sadly, your post is spot on in terms of some students skills and motivation.

    • A bit OT, but…
      My favorite student shenanigan is the insane volume of calls to the Help Desk asking for firewall exemptions for XBox or other consoles, so they can play online games. Now, I likes me some internet gaming and all, but:
      1) GO TO CLASS, or,

      Seriously, people.

    • The frightening thing is that I recently read an article that explained why America's youth know so little about the world they live in (e.g., the branches of government, why we have four seasons, how an airplane gets off the ground, etc.). Answer: they don't have to know—they can Google it!

      That article + this one = deep, deep depression.

    • I expect this kind of laziness/stupidity from my middle school students.

      Sad to know this lasts well into their 20s. And beyond.


    • I see this all the time. I don't even think it's laziness – it's the result of some sort of training, but for what, and in response to what, I'm not sure. All the time, when faced with a demand for some sort of knowledge, the instinctive response is a plaintive "help me with this question", which translates to "answer this question for me". There's no attempt even to begin working on the question – no attempt to weed out the less likely answers in multiple choice, no attempt to figure out meanings or reason from what is already known. Just a blank look and a demand (however phrased) for the answer so that the question can be set aside. When I was in high school, there were always kids like this – usually they were the bullies or the jocks or the privileged few, but it wasn't almost everybody.
      "Kids! What the devil's wrong with these kids today! [doot-doot-doot-doot] Kids! Who can understand anything they say! [doo-doot doo-doot-doot] Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs! Noisy, crazy, sloopy, lazy, loafers, and while we're on the subject, etc., etc."
      Anyway, to Susan: while your truly superior person (ie me) needs no recognition from the rest of the world (what would it be worth, anyway), I'm willing to accept your application for admission to my isolated superior society (on my island, in my Secret Underground Lair under my volcano, of course). A very recent full-length photograph and a detailed CV are, of course, mandatory. Don't worry about that Futhark fellow; he fell woefully short of meeting my stringent standards, but you naturally have the genetic edge over him. I look forward to evaluating your application.

    • Elder, since you missed my own irony as well, I would say the fucking stupidity was mutual. Your fucking stupidity merely sounded like any Megan McArdle commenter, however, so you lose irony point for lack of exaggeration.

    • This is not a millenial problem. Not by any means. That it manifests itself in the form of questions about computers, sure, but at every job I've ever worked at where I dealt with the public, this happened.

      Way back in the early nineties, we had a video store. The layout of the store was narrow, so there were video boxes on either wall, and a row of shelves in the middle. The categories were clearly marked. The desk was at the rear of the store. Everyday, every single day, people would walk up and ask where whatever section was.

      A section they walked right past. That if they had so much as turn their hea fifteen degrees in either direction, they would have seen the large signs. Which were visible no matter where you walked.

      And this was not, generally, speaking, their first trip to the store.

      More recently I worked on a bookmobile, and people would ask where whatever author was. This is information that, again, would be available simply by glancing at the shelves, and given the fifteen feet they would have had to walk to get to whatever, would have been faster just to look rather than have me explain.

      It's not a milennial thing, it's a people thing.

    • Unfortunately, I work in IT and at the federal level at that. (not recommended if you have lone gunman tendencies) This has afforded me the opportunity to gain certain insights into human behavior. Often, when someone asks for help on something, it is not because they need help necessarily but it is because they need human interaction. Years ago I worked on a help desk. I'm pretty sure 20% of the calls were from lonely people. So, next time one of your students asks for seemingly mundane help, view it as them asking you if you want to get to know them or if they can stop by to chat. I've come to realize that Amerians, and perhaps most humans, are very passive aggressive by nature so often what we hear is not what is truly meant.

    • I think it's a bit of all of these things. Psychological blocks against anything that falls outside the sphere of "entertainment." Deeply conflicted attitudes about authority. The general dumbness, laziness and mediocrity of the age. And a pinch of "mechanic's syndrome," the assumption that anything that relates to one's own vocations and interests should be "common sense." You're probably more savvy and engaged with the world than the average Southern-state-school freshman. (I was one, and can say with authority that many of my classmates were sweating it out until they could get a gig in Dad's insurance company and were not qualified to operate pencil sharpeners.)

    • @Da Moose:
      Occasionally, I'll ask people questions to which I know the answers because I'm curious about how they'll spin it. And my long conversations with extremely isolated elderly people were the most harrowing moments of by brief telemarketing career.

    • Yeah, young people today sure are stupid and lazy. Not like when we older folks were young. Nope, we were all sharp cookies.

      I'm 43, by the way.

    • As a so called "millenial" myself, of the tender age of 20, the best answer I can give for this is completely anecdotes from my high school and elementary years (my area in Canada lacks middle schools).

      I see two major problems with the way kids are brought up through the school system (which, due to the authority instructors command–or what little is still recognized–almost makes them a larger influence than domestic affairs).

      The first is from grappling with plagarism and the untrustworthiness of many websites as sources. When they are told to research for class assignments, most public schools don't have the resources to buy into journal indexing services and the like, and as a result the "internet" is often just blacklisted completely as being a valid source of information. Instead, students were always directed to libraries and books (even if the school library is dusty at best, and full of outdated information).

      The second comes from, I think, changes in the way instructors deal with students in public schools these days, due to helicopter parenting, the power of PTA's, etc. One of the things instructors will constantly stress is encouraging students to approach them with questions after class/school, and that no question is a stupid question (and somehow, the qualifying statement that they should have made an effort to solve the question beforehand is somehow lost in the chaos). This effectively breeds a dependency on the instructor by students as the primary source of information.

      And well, the two put together, you have a pretty strong stigma towards finding information in the academic setting via the internet (wikipedia being the most actively reviled source, often) and an affirmation that instructors are apparently "there to help you" and no question is not worth asking.

      Which, when graduating into the university environment, is entirely the wrong attitude to have. And this is exacerbated by the fact that society seems to apparently have suffered a decline in its respect for PhD holders.

      But hey, at least this is in email. I think the greatest travesty is when an entire lecture is being held up by dumb questions, which is why I've long felt larger classes are in fact better than the "small class sizes" many community college institutions try to sell as pedagogically superior.

    • @ToastCrust re: "the fact that society seems to apparently have suffered a decline in its respect for PhD holders."

      Really? Profs were never much respected in American society before, anti-intellectual as we always were. And now still worse? Sigh.

      Away to Germany or Korea! where you'd be stunned to see how scholars are really, actually, truly revered. (But according to my German friend, "not as much as they used to be.")

    • @Georgia Jeff: Two words my friends to ease your worries: Soylent Green

      I've got one child who's graduated HS and another who's a Senior and I talk to their friends and while some can be engaging, there are some that I genuinely worry about.

      I mean this quite seriously, beyond their ability to navigate the manifold dramas among their various circles of close and extended "friends" on facebook and other forms of social media, I as a former engineer and hiring manager see no discerning skills among these young mostly college-bound adults.

      Forget the complete unwillingness to conform in the slightest for a work environment. I just mean with respect to more basic things like work ethic, timeliness, organizational skills, communication skills, cleanliness in one's work area, etc.

      These are things one needs for entry level work, the crap we ALL had to go through when we started. So, when college students essentially can't use Google to find their ass from their elbow, it paints a pretty bleak picture.

    • You're forgetting — this generation thinks the Internet = Facebook. They quite literally don't use it for anything else.

      I always thought email was the killer application for the Internet but it is fading fast.

      They've also forgotten that phones can make calls.

      Anything that doesn't take place on Facebook or text message doesn't exist. And those nonexistent skills are exactly what you're calling on. Sure, none of it is that hard. But something you never do is not something you think of doing in any situation. God forbid you leave them a voicemail. It had better not be about anything important.

      If the Secretary of State has a Facebook page, they'll know where to vote. Otherwise they won't.

    • @ andrew

      Typical! You're so busy making your point that you've ignored what the other guy's (me!) issue is. Thank you, though, for making my point for me: the purpose of university attendance isn't only the gleaning of knowledge (books and/or apprenticeships will do that); it is the interaction with dons and peers, that should turn you, irrespective of the course of study, from the thick hick you are into a thinking man.

      Thinking before you speak is important, you see, you may look so silly otherwise; just look at the comment placed by duck-billed placelot, who follows your reply; erudite and insightful, isn't it?

      I, for one, readily admit that I, thickest of hicks, had to be taught to seek my own answers, to do my own research, to be self-reliant and to be able to defend cogently what I produced. As the old are entitled to say, it hasn't harmed me in any way.

      And, no, I didn't have to be taught to dress myself by a university don, my mother did that for me – what a dumd-assed question that was!

      BTW, you can call me anything you want if it makes you feel superior, even a troll – just don't call me a liberal, the antithesis of the thinking man.

    • Ed,

      Not to contest or diminish any of your experiences, but…

      My grad dept is all about researching how people find and interact with information — and nobody here relies on using the university's home page (and people search). Because it's a hot mess. Many projects out of my department have been about user research on how long and difficult a time average users have in navigating or even finding out proper navigation clues on the university's ste. And that site is not abnormal amongst uni sites, nor particularly evil or broken; it's just had so many content and branding and link content thrown at it over the years that, well, see my comment about "hot mess". I feel for the few people who have the responsibility for upkeep, as I know it's perhaps two people with tons of other pressing mandates taking up their days.

      Also: do the TAs always use the same email address for TA-ing as for their general student accounts? When working with undergrads, I usually create a dedicated email account for the project/position. The students may realize this on some level and really be asking which email address for the TA should they have?

      Also: well, they know you know it. Weak, but there it is.

      That said, I have similar horror stories as to the ones above. (You can also find What's the Matter with Students stories from SEK, such as — also check his archives about when he assigns a class the task of finding information WITHOUT going online.)

      When I was a teaching fellow (relax, it's just their fancified way of saying TA) at Harvard, I had a student in a Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson class turn in a paper that was, basically, her lecture notes made grammatical. It was obvious that she'd just repeated everything from the lectures and turned it in as a paper. Now, she did not seem to be trying to cheat — she didn't contest that this is what she'd done. In fact, she seemed genuinely perplexed when I said that this isn't what she should have done. "But… are you saying what the professor said was wrong? Isn't this what there is to know about this play?"

    • I think they are just trying to signal to you that they are interested. They are 18-19 years old after all, they are probably just be seeking your approval, and do not know how else to do so.

    • As a college instructor who has watched the intellectual level of students descend over 30 years from clueless to dumb and dumber, i would say that most of them spend their time gaming and have ABSOLUTELY no interest in researching topics/concepts/beliefs/hoax emails or anything else (except maybe pron sites). My husband also teaches at the CC level and is increasingly frustrated with having to answer queries concerning test dates (IT'S IN THE SYLLABUS), assigned material (IT'S IN THE SYLLABUS), paper due dates (IT'S IN THE SYLLABUS), what's a syllabus and why don't I have one (or, I lost mine ???). We have both noted the absolute lack of knowledge of general information (which one would assume anybody growing up in the 21st century would know) or critical thinking skills, or initiative, despite Kentucky's "educational reform" having been in place for 15 years, at least. Our "older" students (35+) are usually more clued in and harder workers.

    • squirrelhugger says:

      Interesting comments, as I have little contact with people of that age. I'd summarize that you're seeing routine behavior by a generation more concerned with communication channels than content, and they're just doing what comes normally– unnecessary contact to feel connected.

      Structured and supervised playtime, team sports, constant academic monitoring and support, helicopter parenting, cell phones, text messages, social networks, emphasis on success through networking. It's a generation that gets the heebie jeebies when they're out of contact for an hour. They're just gravitating to any reason to make contact; the utility of it is not much considered or relevant, and possibly has little to do with aptitude. Of course kids nowadays are all lazy shits too, but that goes without saying.

    • I think it reflects their impression of the information they seek. The Constitution seems dusty, old and irrelevant, therefore it cannot be found in through the same methods employed to find Katy Perry. Similarly, the "1994 election" seems mysterious and old. Be happy the did trot down to the archeology department or the rare book collection seeking answers.

    • Regarding your befuddlement: You wrote that "The basic skills and comprehension of how websites work appear to be present. The part that baffles me is why they seem so unable to find out things they need to know."

      Has it occurred to you that they do know how to access information on the internet, but what they really want is to establish contact with you, to get to know you on a more personal basis? You may not want that. But I suspect that many of your students do.

      I was introduced to your website through another website. I don't remember which one. But after reading your work, I found myself reading your column on a regular basis. Now, it's usually on a daily basis. Why? Because you write well and have what I consider to be a mature and intelligent perspective on the current state of affairs with respect to our failing and broken government.

      On a personal note, I graduated from the UGA and completed my doctoral studies in psychology at GSU. Honestly, I don't know how you can abide living in Athens, Georgia. From what you've written, I guess you were looking for a job and took their offer. Finding rewarding work is hard these days. It's been that way for a little over 12 years, as I recall.

      While in Georgia, I worked for the Fulton School System for a while, but had to get away from the administrative bullshit that I suspect you have to deal with on a regular basis. After getting away from "them" I opened my own business and practiced independently in Atlanta for many years, and loved my work. I still do. But for the last 15 years I've lived in Anchorage, Alaska. I love it here. I needed to get out of the South. I'm 67, but still maintain my own practice on a part-time basis.

      Again, I enjoy reading your work and wish you well.

      H. B. Acker

    • I've encountered this too. I've also encountered students who's idea of looking up something is to go to (subject) dot com rather than google. Maybe the student who asked you about finding the Constitution had gone to the bafflingly confusing and was bewildered by all the libertarian claptrap about buying gold.

      But part of what at least some of them are doing is testing the Professor Response System. Now they know how you respond to dumb questions, and how quickly.

    • 30yearsoldbutnotashittycrankyet says:

      I enjoy a good round of telling the kids to get off my lawn as much as the next cranky old fuck, but what you smug geniuses seem to have overlooked is that asking for the TA's email is being respectful of boundaries. Being the tech-savy youth that they are, they know that everyone has multiple email addresses, each given out to certain groups and withheld from others to separate their business from their personal life. Asking for the email address is precisely equivalent to asking for an office phone number instead of using the phonebook to look up a professor's home number. But by all means, don't let me get in the way of this little "all the kids are fuckups"convention. Also, their music is just noise and their clothes look stupid.

    • Don't be nice to freshmen. When they ask a stupid question, stare at them and say "Cut the (bleep)". If you are old enough, that is the end of the conversation. If you are only a few years older than the questioner, an expanded answer is expected.
      By the way, my own children heard this enough that they made a side business: CTS Inc, Life Coaches and Consultants
      They have real clients, and they owe it all to their impatient dad.

    • Halloween Jack says:

      These anecdotal findings are supported by a new study at five Illinois colleges of students' ability to find information and do research on the internet.

      As a librarian in Illinois, I have to say that that's fuckin' great. I may not have to live off of rabbits and dandelion soup for another five years or so!

    • IMHO a lot of this comes from two related dynamics: First, there is the tendency of experts, seniors, professionals of all stripes, to make what they do seem more difficult and harder to get a handle on than it really is. An account I read claimed that the vast majority of issued medical doctors face could be effectively handled by a nurse-practitioner. China had, at one time, the 'barefoot doctor' program where a well educated EMT acted as a doctor to handle most cases but handed off anything unusual.

      The point here is that even in very complicated professions the majority of the time is spent doing simple grunt work that a reasonably dedicated and talented student could pick up in a few months.

      Of course it doesn't serve the profession's interest to have this simple fact become common knowledge. So you get people acting like it is harder than it usually is, and obscuring the rank simplicity of most of the work behind technical jargon, mystery, and a demand beginners jump through flaming hoops to be accepted into the club.

      Second, you get issues around an entrenched establishment. There is little good, in their eyes, that might come from young turks taking over and shaking things up. So you get at least as much indoctrination as you do information and education.

      The education system is, in many ways, a holding pattern to allow time for the existing experts to reign. It also amounts to an obstacle course for people moving into professions. A goodly number of people get 'weeded out' by the university system. Any serious physical, mental, emotional, or financial weakness can snowball into having to drop out. And professors can, potentially, increase any stress if they don't like 'the cut of your jib'.

      So you get students who have been told again and again that they don't know anything. They are told to respect, sometimes fear, professors and elders. They are told they don't know anything and that they don't even know what they don't know. That they are getting indoctrinated into the mysteries of higher education and that doing well means the difference between flipping burgers and raking in money and power. That this is 'it', the big time. Connections and understanding here is magical. It isn't something just anyone can learn. It isn't a mechanical process. They must sit at the master's feet and strive to gather the pearls of wisdom he/she may cast in their general direction.

      Certainly nothing useful in such an arcane process might be gained with such pedestrian practices as a simple Google search.

      And then, of course, there is the simple fact that nothing they do is ever going to be right until they pass the first few hurdles. If they fail to Google simple information they are 'stupid freshmen'. If they do and catch on, or answer, a little too swiftly they are 'smart asses' who are 'to smart for their own good'. Knowing you're screwed either way the least offensive option is to feign ignorance and let them spoon feed you what they want you to know.

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