Technology has revolutionized people's lives in every way over the past decades, and life on campus is no exception. One noticeable change is that Korean universities are making it harder for students to skip class by installing electronic systems to check attendance. The systems have their roots in the multi-function electronic student ID cards which double as debit and library cards that began appearing on campuses in the 1990s.
Around 2000 many universities such as Yonsei began to install terminals in lecture rooms that use student cards to check attendance. Kyunghee University currently boasts one of the most sophisticated computer systems in the country. In 2006 it introduced its so-called "U-Class System," which facilitates interactive checks of students' identification for lecturers. When students insert their ID cards in terminals installed in lecture rooms, their personal information is sent to the lecturer's computer screen in real-time. By clicking a student's photo onscreen, the lecturer can access the student's number, attendance status, and participation rate.
Googling around for more information I see that my post on student-teachers skipping their classes turns up. The money shot of the Chosun Ilbo article is, of course:
"Sometimes there are funny arguments because some students forget to update their photos after getting plastic surgery," a student said.
I imagine another problem would be the popularity of retouching photos here. Looking at photographs of professors on campus they can be quite difficult to recognize, both because some look like they were taken in 2001---lots of brown hair and dark lipstick---and because the photographer was enthusiastic with his Photoshop.
As far as making sure students come to class, fancy systems will only be effective if students are held accountable and not automatically passed regardless of attendance, participation, or scores earned. Reading accounts of university English teaching tells me there's less at stake there than in grade school, and that some students aren't ready to handle independence and responsibility. Here is a recent addition to the classic ExpatKorea thread "Exam Follies":
Some people never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Today, my grammar class had one more such individual, a moist, lanky creature, who slipped in half an hour late, through the back door of the class, and sat as far back in the corner as possible. He slid in next to a couple of girls who were supposed to be working, and struck up a conversation with them. I looked over at him. He hadn't been to a single class. He leaned back and actually tried to hide behind another student. I stared and stared, and the class started to giggle. He refused to look at me.
I walked over to him, and saw that he had no book. He showed me his name on the register, and we looked together at the long, perfect row of absences. I gave him the review hand-out, and told him to get out. He refused. Didn't even reply. I opened the door, and gestured. He pretended not to see me. Bastard.
It made me so angry to have my classroom invaded by this weirdo. I didn't consider him my student. I considered him an intruder.
According to my supervisor, I'm obliged to give him a D (not an F) if he merely shows up to the exam. Bullshit.
I see there are recent posts on a couple of Korea blogs about test time in universities, and if you know of any other relevant links, please post them in the comment section. Here's an excerpt from A Geek in Korea:
Anyway, being in a position to give actual grades now is a very disorienting experience. People in Korea lobby their teachers for their grades at the end of the semester. This is an acceptable practice in a university. The students think that a final grade is OPEN FOR NEGOTIATION! I can’t imagine EVER going up to one of my college professors and giving them a critical word about my grading. It simply wasn’t done. You’d be laughed out of the room.
And an excerpt from Joe Seoulman, picking up after he tells of an email from a student who stopped coming to class after the second week because she thought she dropped the course:
Then she goes on to tell me that if she fails this course, she'll be kicked out of the university.If I get f in this course then I'll be send down from school. If I have known this earlier I'll never absent from class like this. So I beg you, from all my heart. I'll do anything to get grade- whatever I may cost-. So if I have a chance to getover my fault give me one another chance. Please do not kick me out of this school in my last semester.
Apparently, in her eyes, it will be my fault that she is kicked out of school her last semester of her senior year of college (and thus ruining her entire future).
It's beyond the scope of this post to talk about why college is what it is here, and the degree to which that's a good or bad thing---if such words even reply. Suffice it to say the challenges foreign English teachers face today look to be the same ones they've been facing for decades. It's fun to revisit an article called "My Experiences of Teaching English in Korea" from a 1965 edition of Korea Journal; an excerpt:
What is less easy to sympathize with [than economic considerations] is the acceptance of an appreciable number of students of the pressure and their using it to avoid 'unnecessary' work. The willingness of the faculty to assist graduation by generous marking has the deplorable effect in class of making many students complaisant towards their work. Why work, after all, if examination passing is more or less automatic? Students have frequently come to me with their names and vital statistics written on a piece of paper and asked me to give them an 'A' or a 'B' grade because they had been unable (or unwilling?) to attend any classes during the semester.
Most frustrating of all in this respect is what my friend and I have called 'the conspiracy of mediocrity.' This is a description of an apparent tendency to control the amount and the quality of work done in class in order to facilitate revision for, and the passing of, examinations. The 'conspiracy' manifests itself in complaints that work is too difficult, failure to do assignments, the arranging of class picnics for weekdays instead of weekends and numerous delaying and diversionary tactics in class---the favourite being to ask one to tell the class all about England and English university life. This is made the more annoying by the fact that there are many excellent students in class who went to get on but find that their loyalty to their classmates is stronger.
An offshoot of the economic handicap is the business of the education industry in Korea and its effect on classes, on the students, and hence on the teacher. Koreans tell me with pride of the widescale interest in,and concern for, education here. Everybody either wants to have or wants to give his children as extensive an education as possible. The pressure upon university students does not merely come from the need to present a graduation certificate to their potential employers. It also comes from parents and relatives and the social atmosphere in Korea that insist that a university education is necessary for one who wishes to become an acceptable member of society regardless of whether he is equipped for university or not. I find this objectionable if only because it is bursting with snobbery. I also find that it adversely influences the atmosphere in class.
I used the phrase 'education industry' advisedly and unpejoratively. There is an enormous demand for education and therefore it is supplied on what amounts to a commercial basis---unlike in England where education is largely in the state. Subject ot certain government controls universities must think in terms of fees paid for services rendered of profit and loss. Classes are large and for the reason given in the previous paragraph, they are often filled with students who, perhaps, should never be in a university in the sense in which one usually understands a university. They seem to be willing cogs in a credit-card filling machine. Other students for one reason or another find themselves studying a subject in which they have lost interest but in which they must continue since to change faculties is so difficult. The two kinds of student were neatly blended for me in a student who once told me that he enjoyed English literature very much but hated reading books.
Naturally enough this contributes to the casual approach towards study that is often found in class, to the ever-ready cutting of classes by all students for slight excuses like inter-university football matches (even though few students from the class may actually go to watch the game), to the attitude that if there is a street demonstration in the morning then there can be no classes in the afternoon, to the slipshod work that is done during the five minutes before, and the first five minutes in, the class in the name of assignments and finally to the feeling on the part of the teacher that the students are for these reasons schoolchildren not students.
There is another totally different handicap that students suffer when learning English at university, especially from a foreign teacher. It is the totally inadequate instruction given in middle and high schools in the practical use of English. Students, through little fault of their own other than lack of private initiative, are unable to read English quickly enough for university purposes. When I asked some graduate school students to read a short book as background material for my lectures one of the students said that it would take a fortnight to do so. This I think represents average ability. The problem is aggravated by the difficulty of obtaining books. Students, as a rule, are unable to borrow books from the university library. The choice of books available in city bookshops is limited and those books which a student can afford are even fewer in number. Students are not by English standards well read. One sophomore class of English Literature department students had not, when asked, heard of a poet called Alexander Pope.
Few students have a sufficient mastery of the language to understand a lecture given in English.
Well, I won't quote anymore here. You can read a longer excerpt and some reader comments on this thread from November 2008, or some more reader comments on this thread, or you can just download the short article as a .pdf file from this page.