You might have thought the point of evolution was to evolve, meant in a positive sense, but it seems universities are completing the process of brain shrinkage (many would say TCD has already started shrinking students’ minds!).
Professor Orlando Figes of Birkbeck, University of London says many students are now completing their university degrees without reading a single book. Many undergraduates no longer see the point of wasting time with books when they can access facts using websites such as Wikipedia and SparkNotes, the study guides provider, or just read book extracts prepared by lecturers.
Writing in the Times Educational Supplement, Prof Figes says computer games and social websites had reduced the attention span of teenagers but that the shift was mainly driven by an exams culture in schools. He explained that students are mainly encouraged to scan texts to pass tests, rather than read in ways that advance understanding and knowledge.
This has made them successful at passing their exams and they see no need to change. They “use” a book, skimming it, reading reviews of it, reading the conclusion and using the index to construct arguments and engage with scholarly controversy.
However many of these online guides hold “real dangers for students.” Just check the reference to the Russian Revolution on Wikipedia and SparkNotes and “you’ll see many mistakes, misapprehensions and misleading statements that would never appear in a book by an expert in the field,” says Prof Figes.
But Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, professor of history at Notre Dame University said many British academics write badly because “their incompetence was already beyond remedy when they reached university.”