torsdag 22 december 2016

Lord of the Ring (paper)


Three months ago I wrote a blog post about an abstract we had just submitted to the 9th [Swedish] Pedagogical Inspiration Conference. The abstract was accepted, we wrote up the short paper and submitted it in the beginning of November. My colleague, Björn Hedin (first author) presented it last week. I'm the second author and the third author is Olle Bälter.

We had a discussion already at the time when we submitted the paper and came to the conclusion that the old title ("Dummerjöns"/"Blockhead Hans") should be changed. The title was problematic as it might sound demeaning even though it really isn't - but you might only know that if you go back and read the original H.C. Andersen fairy tale.

The new title of the paper is "Sagan om examensringen – en akademisk tragedi" [Lord of the graduation ring - an academic tragedy] and the paper is already available online (pdf file). The paper treats two different phenomena:

1. A student who had zero aptitude for studying but 100% aptitude for cheating and "social hacking" and who hacked his way to his bachelor's degree (although it took six rather than three years).

2. How the academic system and its administration can (or fails to) be both "service-minded" to ordinary students while simultaneously stopping those few students who ruthlessly exploit the system. I guess there is a connection of sorts to one of my more popular blog posts ever, a piece that I wrote more than five years ago called "Can a student fail at a Swedish university?"

In this paper we describe some of this particular student's strategies, including a strategy we call "mail tsunami" (self-explanatory!). The student had at the end of his studies sent more than 1500 emails to three persons; a teacher in the program, the program director and the director of first cycle (undergraduate) education at the KTH School of Computer Science and Communication. He also sent emails - but not as many - to other teachers and administrators. How should such behavior be handled? Can an institution of higher learning brand a student as a querulant and refuse to answer his emails after the first 1000 have been answered? Can you at all do that as a civil servant? Whose backing do you need to make such a decisions (if at all possible)? These are the kinds of question this paper raises but we truly have no idea of what the appropriate answers might be - we just want to raise the topic and make it available for discussions.

The paper is only 1700 words long, it fits on a single sheet of paper and it still manages to get a lot said. I can wholeheartedly recommend it as it should be of interest to all teachers at institutions of higher learning. It is however written in Swedish and that's just the way it is. If you want to read the paper but can't read Swedish, well, how about finding a venue for us to publish it in English?

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