Laziness or Procrastination? I Have the What But I Need the Why!

I’ve referred, several times, to the fact that my students have managed to make it through all those years of school before they meet the pre-requisites, get a sufficiently high score and then select the Uni I work at. If people had really bad study habits before they hit Uni, they probably wouldn’t hit Uni. (This ignores all the issues as to WHERE those bad habits come from – I’m not saying that the students are responsible for everything but that an inability to study, for whatever reason, will be a likely bar to academic progression.) This means that the bad study behaviours that we see in early years of Uni are most likely to be transition issues on going from school to Uni – the change in structure, the different requirements and, most obviously, the fact that only a subset of the people who were in school have made it to Uni and, based on this, the educational requirements have now been tailored to these people. But, yes, some poor academic behaviour may be brought in – which immediately raises the question as to how the students with this behaviour have made it this far?

When people talk about lazy students, I always wonder how someone could have been lazy up until this point and still get through. The answer, generally, is that students at the top end of the academic spectrum have often been able to get through with less effort than other students. In certain circumstances, for particularly gifted students, they may never really had to extend themselves at all. When they get to University, we do try to challenge and extend everyone, but these students may never have formed a mental model that required them to read work when it was handed out and allocate enough time to it – and their just-in-time, ‘when I think of it’ model starts to fall apart. So this is one situation in which a (to date) lazy student could hit our system.

What if the vast number of students who are late in handing in, or just-in-time/just-too-late, are procrastinators, rather than lazy? It’s a lack of awareness of the amount of work involved, which is often related to a lack of subject understanding and structure, that can lead to them working late. You can see this in the data that says that roughly a third of out students start handing in work for assignment on the last day, or that the vast majority of electronic support material is accessed in the 48 hours before the exam. Rather than not committing to the work, based on previous success with a lazy approach, we see a lack of understanding of what is involved and the time commitment doesn’t match what is required.

We have a lot of quantitative data on student hand-in and assessment behaviours, but I don’t have the “Why?” of the data. This is where surveys and student interviews can give us a ‘Why’ for our ‘What’ which, we hope, will tell us ‘How’ we can get more students to take accurate control of their time management.

3 Comments on “Laziness or Procrastination? I Have the What But I Need the Why!”

  1. […] is a follow-up thought to my recent post on laziness. I spend a lot of time thinking and, sometimes, it would be easy to look at me and think […]


  2. Alex H says:

    “If people had really bad study habits before they hit Uni, they probably wouldn’t hit Uni”–I don’t entirely agree with this.

    To my mind, there’s a very fundamental difference between high school and university. At school, most of the learning happens inside the classroom, with a teacher present. Homework is to a large extent a matter of demonstrating or reinforcing what’s been learned.

    At university, most of the learning happens (or should happen) outside the classroom. For many (not all) courses, there are fewer contact hours per week than at school; and there’s “free” time in between classes, which the students should be using for learning. Class time is about motivating students–this can be done by throwing information at them, providing context, demonstrating enthusiam, setting goals, giving feedback, encouraging discussion, and other things–but to succeed, the students need to have a more independent attitude than they did at high school.

    To put it another way: my personal belief (based on very little evidence; I’m putting this out here partly in the hope that you’ll shoot it down in an interesting way) is that success in high school has very little to do with good study habits; such things only become important in a university environment (or in some workplaces).


    • nickfalkner says:

      The main reason I disagree is in how we define “very bad”. There are points on the entry path to University that require you to have studied and retained information to a degree where you can achieve the required entry mark. However, these require you to have got to Year 12, which require you to have got to Year 11, which require you to have been able to get through Year 10 and understand that Years 11 and 12 were both worthwhile and achievable.

      Basically, if you can get to Uni you’ve made it through a large number of hurdles, one of which is your ability to function in a classroom and at those points where individual retention of information is required.

      Being able to study well at high school (under greater supervision) is certainly no guarantee of success in the free form world of Uni (where you truly need study skills that are self-regulated) – but self-regulated study skills are not the only ones that will work. You still have to show enough interest or application of skills to get by in the school system.

      If I may suggest, your experience (and mine) do not necessarily reflect the majority case – given that we are both in the PhD stream and have a natural pre-disposition to education.


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