Bathelling in assignments

The Deeper Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd  defines the word bathel like this:

bathel (vb.) To pretend to have read the book under discussion when in fact you’ve only seen the TV series or movie.

I do not like to bathel, and in fact it is one of my life’s ambitions to find and read the books on which the TV series and movies I have seen — especially those I saw as a child. This ambition has inspired me to read Tom’s midnight garden, The Children of Green Knowe, Anne of Green Gables, The Hundred and One Dalmations, Babe (aka The Sheep Pig), Archer’s Goon, Jumanji, Dot and the Kangaroo, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, The Last Unicorn, Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left, Finders Keepers and I’m sure several others I can’t think of right now.

I was talking about the word bathel at the AUMS barbecue yesterday, and Nicholas called me to remind me that I had lost track of time and what I should be doing was helping students in the MLC Drop-In room. So off I went to help people with their t-tests, conics and subspaces. And it occurred to me while doing this that a small number of the students I was talking to were attempting to bathel about their coursework.

These few students were attempting to use information they’d been told in their lectures to talk knowledgeably about a problem, without having tried to organise and connect the ideas first. They hadn’t sat down with their notes and some problems and tried to grapple with how these ideas can be applied. They had only seen the movie and not taken the time to read the book.

(I should say at most students I talk to have a very positive attitude and do try to think through their course content deeply, using the MLC to help them learn to do this thinking!)

A movie presents the ideas in a book most pertinent to the film-makers’ intepretation of the overall theme. And it does so in a small window of time without any pauses or breaks for thought. On the other hand, when you read a book, you can savour a particular page for quite some time, and flick back and forth as you read to check something you might have missed. And you can think about what the book means to you in the gaps between reading sessions.

In the same way, the lecturer presents the ideas of a particular area of learning most pertinent to the overall themes of the course. And you don’t get the chance in the lecture to think through what it means to you and how these ideas are connected. To really understand you need to sit and savour it like you do when reading a book.

I’d like to hope that I can encourage students to take the time to savour it, but if not, I’d at least like to teach them that bathelling is not the best way to go. Lecturers are pretty good at spotting people bathelling on assignments!

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