Monday, February 21, 2011

A metaphor for the role of ASP in student success

I have written posts in the past about students as consumers. I have very strong feelings on the topic, because I believethat viewing students as consumers dis-incentivizes students to achieve their personal best. However, it can be difficult to explain to students who see themselves as consumers what they should expect from ASP. I think this metaphor may be helpful.*

Home Depot and Lowe's hardware sell do-it-yourself kits for various small projects, such as bird feeders, picture frames, and shelves. They are designed to be parent-child projects, and the degree of complexity involved in the finished product depends on the skill and effort of the builders.

Education is much like one of these do-it-yourself projects. The boxes advertise a very basic project. The kit includes all the pieces necessary to build the project in it's most basic form. If built as designed, the product should function exactly as it is advertised. Similarly, law schools give students all the basic pieces to complete a law degree. Some students will use the pieces as a starting point, and build something magnificent, far exceeding what is advertised on the box. These students are using their own ingenuity, creativity, and talent to demonstrate their own potential. They write notes for law review, join mock trial and appellate advocacy teams, they take on big projects in clinics, and they work to know their professors and peers. Other students will not take the time to read the directions, fail to follow directions, or rush the project because they don't like it. Their project will not be as advertised on the box, because the box does not promise them a well-built project without their own hard work. They can't bring the product back to the store because they don't like the finished product; it is not the store or the manufacturer's fault they did not do what they needed to do. These are the students who fail to show up for orientation or spend orientation playing on a cell phone, the students who are smarter than ASP, and feel that outlining isn't "their style" of preparing for exams. But the trickiest consumers are those that genuinely give 100% of their effort to building the project, and just can not figure out how to get from disassembled pieces to a finished product. This is why most manufacturers have consumer help lines. Academic Success is the consumer help line of law schools. The help-line specialists are masters at building the product, but it requires the continued effort of the consumer to learn how to build the project. If the consumer gets frustrated and hangs up the phone, the help-line specialist can not be blamed for problems with the finished product. Nor can a consumer expect that a help-line specialist is in charge of magic fairies who can come out and finish the project for them because they are struggling. No where on the box does it say that the manufacturer is responsible for the finishing the project for the consumer.

Education, like a do-it-yourself project, is great because you can build something that fits your individual needs, and you decide the complexity of the finished product. Its flexibility is what makes it great, but it also makes it difficult. Students who believe that they are consumers and ASP is there to fix their problems for them are confused about their role.

This metaphor is incomplete in many ways, because ASP encompasses many more things than just helping struggling students. I still disagree with characterizing students as consumers, but I know that some students will see themselves as consumers, and it is helpful to have a metaphor to help them see what we can and cannot do for them. (RCF)

*I apologize if this is a metaphor that has been used by someone else. I have read hundreds of law review articles in the last few months, and I may have accidently picked it up from an article. However, the idea came to me when I watched my brother-in-law and 3 year old nephew put together a do-it-yourself picture frame. My nephew thought the pieces for the frame should be used to build a construction crane. It was not what the manufacturer promised on the box, but it made my nephew very happy. I saw the help-line number on the box, and thought, wow, I bet no one has called them and asked about how to use a picture frame kit to build a construction crane. Which got me thinking about the role of help lines, and ASP.

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