Level 1 of Biggs knowledge of teaching is “blame the student”. i.e. there are good and bad students. One of the common complaints I hear from academics at universities go something like this

there is also a real difficulty, due to the fact that pupils cannot be trusted to follow directions

This is usually from academics who have tried to do the right thing and prepared nice learning materials, only to have the intent ruined by students who don’t do as they are told.

The most common example of this is the release of solutions to questions. Since students can’t be trusted to *really* try the exercises and questions first, before looking at the answers, the academics start releasing the solutions at specific times. For example, Week 1 solutions will be released at the start of week 2. Of course, this wouldn’t need to be done (emphasis in original)

if students would faithfully try as directed before reading ahead for the helps given.

A number of the courses at my current institution have large numbers of distance education students. Students who generally don’t study for fixed amounts of time each week. Often they’ll take a couple of weeks off work in the middle of term to complete the course – they do it all in a couple of weeks. The timed release of solutions each week for on-campus students, doesn’t help the distance education students.

Nothing is ever new

The quotes in the above are taken from Edward Thorndike (1912). That’s right 1912. You can get a copy here.

If you extrapolate these thoughts out a bit, it’s no surprise that Thorndike is often held up at the spark/initial though behind programmed instruction and automatic teaching machines. In particular, because of this quote

If, by a miracle of mechanical ingenuity, a book could be so arranged that only to him who had done what was directed on page one would page two become visible, and so on, much that now requires personal instruction could be managed by print.

Blame the teacher

Most “modern”/”good” thinking teaching staff see the limitations of this blame the student approach. However, over the last few years I’ve often heard similar complaints about teaching staff from management and information technology folk.

Comments along the lines of “It would be good to allow them to set their own exams, but we can’t trust them to do the right thing.” or “They can’t be trusted to follow instructions on how to use the system.”


Thorndike, E. (1912). Education: A First Book. New York, Macmillan.

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