Thursday, November 16, 2006

more thoughts about advanced standing

And about those 6 advanced standing students who withdrew from my class. Because now it all makes perfect sense.

Our program (not offered by all MSW programs) offers advanced standing to any incoming student who has a BSW degree. This means that the student does not need to take the first (foundation) year of master's courses. The students start in the second (advanced) year of courses instead.

Concerns:

1. This assumes that the courses taught at the bachelor's level are the same as those taught at the first year master's level in terms of content and academic rigor.

2. This assumes that all BSW degrees are equally academically rigorous.

3. This assumes that the BSW degree adequately prepares the student for the rigors of the second year of graduate school.

The problem is, how can we really make those assumptions, especially knowing what we know about undergraduate programs? We all know about the disparity in education and learning among undergraduate programs. And I don't believe that the coursework in most BSW programs is equivalent to the MSW foundation courses in content and rigor. The only way to ensure that the students have that knowledge is to test incoming students, and provide them with advanced standing if they can pass the exams.

Certainly, the BSW courses do not prepare the students for the rigor of a second year master's program. And when those students do not have the benefit of the foundation year courses, then they are not prepared for advanced coursework expectations. They come into class all cocky because they are 'advanced standing,' and therefore know it all. And when they discover the extent of the program's and professor's expectations, the students literally fall apart emotionally. And then they blame the professor and want us to fix the situation, because after all, they've always been 'A' students. 'A' students in an undergraduate program perhaps, but not in a graduate program. Graduate school is a whole different ballgame -- one they've never played and don't understand.

The foundation year is the student's preparation for the advanced year. When they are not required to take the foundation year courses (some of which are prerequisites to advanced year courses), we do our students a grave disservice.

I have students who don't even understand what APA style is. They write entire papers without citing any sources, assuming that listing the sources on the reference page is sufficient. They overuse direct quotes, rather than trusting themselves to adequately summarize what they read. And they make basic writing and grammatical errors that are taught in junior high. I even provide them with a grammar guide from my rugrat's junior high days, and a summary of APA style citations/references, and they clearly haven't made use of either guide.

I believe that those six students who left the class found themselves in over their heads. They weren't prepared for the work and the level of expectations. They wanted out, but it was too late to drop a course. They didn't want to lose the tuition paid for the course, so they went to the AD and made it my fault. I wasn't allowed to respond to their verbal attack -- they were simply allowed to withdraw and take another course another semester.

It seems as though I'm grumping a lot about teaching this semester. I've always had normal teaching grumps, but this semester has been nearly completely disheartening. The saving grace has been the select few students who have worked hard and done well -- those who have taken responsibility for their learning. And those who have done the best aren't in fact the advanced standing students; they are the students who completed the foundation year courses -- which says it all, in my humble opinion.

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