Going Wireless

by Jeffrey Polet on April 26, 2010 · 32 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

In a sign there’s hope for higher education in America yet, this report from The Washington Post indicates that more schools and professors are rethinking the practice of students using laptops in the classroom. I’ve been banning them for years, and have never had a minute’s doubt about the propriety of the policy. The most obvious problem with having computers in the classroom is that students will use them for things other than class-related activity: surfing the net, playing free cell, or what have you. The arc of the computer narrative, however, indicates the problems we face when we think of technology in purely instrumental terms. Met initially with great enthusiasm, the computer alters the relationship between student and professor in all sorts of ways. Normally, language is the medium that bridges the worlds of student and professor; the computer interposes itself in such a way that language attenuates and the students withdraw from the common world being created by the subject matter. They’re lost in and behind the screen and no longer provide the teacher with the sorts of physical feedback (eye contact, for example) that lets an instructor know the students are “getting it.” The computer encourages students to think about material in terms of “bullet points” and they lose its narrative feel. Outside the classroom, students think it’s nothing to send quickly a message to the professor, usually over trivial issues to which the answers are readily available (by, for example, reading the syllabus), and expect immediate replies. Twenty years ago it wouldn’t have occurred to a student to bother a professor with some of these questions; now they feel as if they are entitled to instant answers. Not only does this erode the authority of professors, but it consumes far too much of our day. I dare say that, on any given day, I receive around 20 emails from students. I would have to dedicate at least two hours a day to email alone just to keep up on it. As it is (checking….) I currently have 1415 messages sitting in my inbox.

I want to be careful about criticizing new technologies. Plato, after all, famously dismissed the advent of writing. In words still prescient, however, Socrates in The Phaedrus quotes Thamus saying: “Theuth, my master of arts, to one man it is given to create the elements of an art, to another to judge the extent of harm and usefulness it will have for those who are going to employ it. And now, since you are father of written letters, your paternal goodwill has led you to pronounce the very opposite of what is their real power. The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves. So it’s not a recipe for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered. And as for wisdom, you’re equipping your pupils with only a semblance of it, not with truth. Thanks to you and your invention, your pupils will be widely read without benefit of a teacher’s instruction; in consequence, they’ll entertain the delusion that they have wide knowledge, while they are, in fact, for the most part incapable of real judgment. They will also be difficult to get on with since they will have become wise merely in their own conceit, not genuinely so.”

As with writing, the harm and usefulness of the computer must be judged before it is enthusiastically embraced. Perhaps no invention of our lifetime, with the possible exception of television, has been accompanied by more delusion concerning its capacity to do good. If in fact the computer is destructive of dialogue in the classroom, then it is necessarily destructive of wisdom and judgment. That teachers are beginning to ban their use indicates residuals of wisdom and judgment remain.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Russell Arben Fox April 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

I appreciate your argument, Jeffrey, as it is one I’m deeply sympathetic to. I do struggle, however, with the brute fact that the computer (or phone)-keyboard interface has become the primary textual communication mode for most Americans under the age of 30. In other words, for many students writing notes–with a pencil, on pieces of paper–is a discomforting, unlearned skill; to require them to abandon the tool with which they can best transcribe the content of my lectures is to, arguably, handicap them in their ability to productively listen to and learn from me.

Of course, it is also arguable that learning itself has suffered from the loss of note-writing ability. Your observation about a “bullet point” mentality taking over how students with laptops might tune in and out of lectures is absolutely correct–as, of course, is your point that with computers in the classroom, the distractions multiply enormously. So I lean in your direction, and have tried to crack down on some computer use, though I’ve not yet (at least not in my larger classes) gone so far as to ban them entirely. Thanks for giving me more to chew over.

avatar WmO'H April 26, 2010 at 10:02 am

As a current undergrad, I can safely say that the wisest teachers all ban laptops. I will be frank; I thank the teachers who allow laptops in the classroom for greatly improving my Minesweeper acumen and ability to keep up with my social life via Facebook. If only professors could see from the back of the classroom; I would estimate that the majority of open computers (mine included) are displaying Farmville, Poker, or some other sort of diversion rather than note-taking.

Maybe a few of your students actually use their laptop for notes, but this is a minority. I find computers useful for dealing with profs outside of class but I really can’t think of a good reason to have them in class. If you want students to pay attention, ban ‘em.

avatar Albert April 26, 2010 at 10:09 am

It seems to me it comes down to what, as teachers, you want to be happening during class time.

In my undergraduate experience, when I felt (with good reason) that nothing really happened in class lectures that couldn’t be accomplished by my reading the text book or the lecture notes if they were provided in electronic form by the professor (which they often were), I’d eventually skip class and just do the reading by myself. There were actually some professors who did not mind, though others would counter this tactic by leaving some information out of the electronic copy, which really seems kind of pointless if the point of teaching is simply data transfer.

The merits of transcribing for helping me to remember what is taught is something I do appreciate; perhaps it is because I (and I’d imagine others) am so used to knowledge in written form that the process of writing is so powerful in forming memory. That said, I do find that I can and often do memorize by repeating aloud what is to be remembered. The interesting thing is that both transcribing and repeating out loud are things that can be done outside of the classroom with, again, lecture notes and/or textbooks.

Which brings me to my acknowledgment of feeling the force of Thamus’s words in a slightly different way. It’s not so much that writing/transcribing always discourages memorization, for it doesn’t necessarily, but that it renders secondary the living, personal, and authoritative element of the teacher from the context of memorization and thus de-personalizes education, replacing the teacher with the text. You can transcribe and memorize without the teacher, and so we often do especially if we implicitly believe education consists in impersonal data transfer. I agree that books have authors and so “personal” interaction, in a sense, does happen when reading/writing outside of the classroom, but it’s not the same.

I’m not sure Thamus quite hit what distinguishes writing from speech, which is why his specific argument is quite clearly refuted by pointing to the fact that memorization per se and the good that it entails of allowing a man to call forth, unaided, from his memory that which allows him to be wise is possible with reading and writing. What seems more important and not possible with reading and writing in themselves (and indeed, with recorded speech) is that the living teacher teaches and interacts with the student. One could imagine that this sort of personal interaction actually changes the way that memorized information resides in the student’s mind, connecting it to the personal and social, that is, real world rather than being safely hidden away in ivory tower irrelevance, divorced from the judgment by which we actually live. Thamus nails that aspect of “real judgment” but locates it in the non-written orality of education rather than in the personal and living context of what is spoken (or written or silently read).

It is true though, that oral communication is the most personal and dynamic in many ways, and so perhaps it should hold a special place in education. It would certainly help to round-out students who can write brilliantly but cannot speak publicly very well.

avatar Mark April 26, 2010 at 11:18 am

WmO’H is spot-on; I can say the same applies to law students. In fact, I read this post on my laptop while sitting in class. Meta-irony FTW.

avatar Matt Roberts April 26, 2010 at 11:44 am

Dr. Polet,

Perhaps you could also speak to the use of PowerPoint by professors in the classroom. Is this just as detrimental to student learning in your view? Can PowerPoint supplant a handout or do you forgo the latter as well?

avatar John Médaille April 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Memory survived the manuscript culture, but not the print culture. Actually, I think the book was more damaging than is the computer. The computer allows a variety of sensory inputs; in McLuhan’s terminology, it is a “cool” medium, while print is a “hot” medium (relying exclusively on one sense.) But something does have to be done about the computer in the classroom. It’s a menace.

avatar Extollager April 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm

A good seminar is close kin to a good symposium, for all that the former involves people actively discussing concepts and narratives enscripted in texts. People draw vigorously on their memories — the text serves as the basis of communal confirmation of memories thereof, etc. It would be good, though, yes, to recover more of the capacity for memorization of extended literary and Scriptural passages…

avatar Steve Knepper April 26, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Three years ago I was a TA for one of the largest and most popular English classes at the University of Virginia. Sitting in the back row of the auditorium during lecture, I could look down over a sea of lap-top screens. Most students would occasionally pop up their word document and type in a coupe of notes, but the vast majority of time they were engaged in virtual activities ranging from dress shopping to porn watching.

Needless to say, I do not allow computers in my classroom.

avatar David April 26, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I suppose this all depends on what your goals are in the classroom. I work for a University where this debated often. I am certainly disgusted by what I see students doing when I stand in the back of a classroom.

However, many professors aren’t really engaged or engaging in a process that is interfered with by the laptop. In other words, they were prepared for this long before the laptop came. The laptop just filled the role that was prepared for it.

It would not be possible for me to write for several hours taking comprehensive notes, but such a transcription process isn’t desirable pedagogy. As I see it, laptops have allowed disengaged professors to keep their jobs (because the expectation on their performance has been reduced).

They never made much eye contact to worry if it was blocked by the laptop screen. They rambled incoherently every few minutes to allow time for email correspondence. Their tests relied more on memorization than comprehension so class-time distraction didn’t have a high opportunity cost.

They had so ruined the classroom experience before the laptop even got there that I’ve seen reports coming out claiming online classes are more effective than brick’n’mortar. But such a thing is not so unreasonable considering what little and pointless exercise that effectiveness necessitates.

avatar James Matthew Wilson April 26, 2010 at 9:35 pm

I appreciate the effort of the commentators who followed Fox to get this question swiftly off the philosophical level. My students know that if they are caught using any kind of electronic device during class time they will be immediately excused. And, from the looks of things, they know why.

How any professor could think it acceptable to have everyone in a room together but not looking at each other and talking to each other after– well, you know–the fashion of human beings, so perplexes me that I have to assume academics must be morons. I shall not even ask a rhetorical question: there is no way such a condition could be good.

The married men out there can do the following test case (my ironic apologies for being so “hetero-normative”): try sitting down to dinner with your wife and kids — but with a laptop before you on the table. Click away. If you’re children do not hate you yet, they soon will. I do not propose this test to married women, because I have greater confidence in their intelligence about such matters.

If it is a poor idea to click and clack and stare into the blue abyss while banqueting, how could it be acceptable in the classroom?

. . . I could go on, and have begun to sputter, because I just cannot understand why anyone ever thought computers in a classroom were good ideas and not — with certainty — harmful to every aspect there of learning and intellectual community.

avatar David April 26, 2010 at 10:11 pm

James, because staring at a piece of paper furiously scribbling is so much better than typing. And there’s so much more personal contact, even though the professor never engages in discussion. Because no one ever doodled, or read the newspaper in the back of class, or didn’t prepare properly for the lecture.

This is assuming an actual professor and not a TA even bothers to show up to teach the class. Or that transgendered-underwater-platypus-manicure-theory is a worthwhile investment of corpuscle transmission fluid.

Laptops are a symptom, not the problem. They can be used successfully, and they can be abused with no effort at all. Incidentally, “no effort at all” is what most students and faculty were putting into the classroom experience anyway.

You’re a cute little curmudgeon, that must be what you count on to keep your class’s attention.

avatar Robin Datta April 27, 2010 at 1:11 am

Computers are an enormous assistance to the learning process. It frees the teacher from the necessity of a blackboard / whiteboard and the content can be fed to the screens of every laptop in class. Collaboration on a scale heretofore unimagined becomes possible.

Students attending to other things on their devices is an indication that the teacher fails to hold their attention. Taking away the devices will not improve the teacher’s performance; it will just reduce the demands on the teacher’s ability to perform by retrogressing to a pre-computer era.

I had learnt the Krebs cycle in biochemistry in the 1960s. A few months ago one of the medical assistants at the place where I worked taking pre-nursing classes requested help with it. I was amazed at the amount of information available by a simple Google. This included several beautiful animations that cannot be found in any textbook. To ban computers from a teaching environment is something that only Homo sapiens neanderthalensis would consider.

avatar WmO'H April 27, 2010 at 7:51 am

While it would be great if all of the problems of technology in the classroom could be solved by good teachers, claiming that it’s a matter of the teacher keeping the students’ interest speaks to a gross overestimation of 1) the attitudes of the average undergrad and 2) even an excellent professor’s ability to be more interesting than the vast array of distraction available on the internet.

I have excellent teachers, and even in the best classrooms in which laptops are allowed there will be two or three students with their eyes glued to the internet rather than the teacher. In fact, I remember one day during his own presentation of a group project (worth 25% of the final grade) one student was watching the Villanova basketball game and completely missed his entrance, as it were, and continued to obviously watch it throughout the rest of the presentation. While I admire his dedication to the team and sport, it was ridiculous.

avatar James Matthew Wilson April 27, 2010 at 7:58 am

David, your characterization of the classroom must have been too delightful to resist. If the condition of the classroom was reducible to the either/or you describe, then neither situation would be any good. Having said that, public declamation used to be our most public art form; the loss of the good lecturer is a cultural as well as a pedagogical loss (or rather, would be). I have never understood the animus against the lecture as a form; the best professors I ever had primarily lectured. I shall not inquire into your apparently traumatized account of note-taking; did writer’s cramp, per chance, kill your father?

Robin: the introduction of a laptop to show a film clip or some other media on a projection screen is beside the point; it is a different question altogether from having individual students with laptops in the classroom. Since I have occasionally taught film classes, I recognize that they are sometimes necessary.

avatar M.Z. April 27, 2010 at 8:13 am

I have to agree with others that professors tend to overestimate their contribution to the process of learning. Most professors teach to the book and the lecture is superfluous. Occasionally a professor will get himself listed as a co-author on the text. On some occasions, the professor will use a vanity text; I have one like that this semester. Ugh. Rarely does a professor apply what’s going on in the book to present world ideas and controversies, and, when they do, their ideas tend to be ad hoc and not thought out. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of problems with the students too. Some have managed to go through lit classes without reading a book. That kind of makes intelligent conversation impossible.

avatar Steve April 27, 2010 at 10:22 am

Robin,

You sound like an education professor.

Cicero could be giving a speech in that lecture hall and 75% of the students would still be checking their old neighbor’s hot cousin’s latest round of soft core Facebook pictures.

There is a place for technology in the classroom, but there is also a place for authentic “wireless” discussion, close scrutiny of a single text, and sustained attention to a single speaker. These are the weaknesses of students today. That means that at least some of the time we should be developing their skills in these areas, not pandering to their usual schizophrenic, half-assed, electronically (dis)-enabled multi-tasking.

I’m a relative youngster. I grew up with computers and teachers and professors trying to use computers. Computers have their uses, but they also have their abuses. They are a tool that can be used poorly or wisely. They are not the universal salvation of our flawed educational system.

avatar David April 27, 2010 at 10:53 am

James, this time you are closer to the mark.

I have been fortunate to have excellent orators as professors. Some of them I would have listened to in silence all day long. However, attendance to oratory isn’t necessarily developing the human person (though I grant it may).

Lecturers who merely speak rapidly and well concerning excrement are efficiently filling the world with waste. Unworthy subject matter is not simply a waste of time but a violence against the student perpetuated by the instructor, just as worthy subject matter heals the soul.

If in the arrogance of subject or process a lecturer is exposed as a charlatan, that lecturer (like all fallen men) will strike out against the expose, not more properly work to gird his soft underbelly against the assault.

Writer’s cramp isn’t the problem. You insisted that the computers were a barrier between professor and pupil. My education was prior to laptop-mania. I spent many hours in rooms full of students furiously writing only occasionally looking up to make sure they copied a particularly important diagram or word from the chalkboard properly.

What is lost by these students staring at their keyboards? In fact, what is lost if they watch the lecture in their dorm room on streaming video? Nothing. And not because the laptops are Satan-spawn, but because the model itself is an inferior imitation of true person-forming education.

I cannot speak about life in college prior to the GI bill, but I’ve heard other’s accounts. I suspect such a fraud of an intellectual would not have survived prior to the commoditization of higher education.

I am not in support of laptops. What I am is disturbed by the thin veil of delusion so many academics have about the underlying failures which make the improper application of all technology merely systemic and not symptomatic.

M.Z., you are correct that most instructors are approximate the status of a vestigial organ. However, don’t be lured into thinking that practicum is the solution. Even then, they are often reduced to the adult version of a coma ward attendant. True professors are aware that the educational process is a formation process and invest themselves in the persons they have been given the awesome responsibility of forming.

Otherwise all of education devolves into a social signaling mechanism for keeping the lesser classes (however you define them) away from the locus of society’s executive power structures. I have a professor or two whom I call friend that I wish to draw away from such a self-mutilation as casting oneself as a mere gatekeeper.

avatar john Willson April 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Sorry, it’s a waste of time to debate this. My sainted aunt, who was a Phi Beta Kappa junior year at Syracuse in 1916, wrote most of her letters home during boring classes. I couldn’t care less about what my students are doing on computers–it’s their buck, not mine. If they fail, they fail. If you as a teacher fails, it’s because you can’t keep their attention. Ho hum.

avatar David April 27, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I see you accept the commoditization of education John. I don’t. There’s more than an economic exchange of goods going on. Relationships form and often more importantly for some, reputations are shared. The failure of a human being who happens to navigate the straights to graduation will poison the reputation of the institution for a lifetime.

avatar Jeffrey Polet April 27, 2010 at 6:42 pm

David: Your view of technology is way too instrumental for my tastes, and not really consistent with your other views.

Matt Roberts: There are times when Powerpoint can be an useful technology. I’ve rarely seen it used in an effective way, and there are all sorts of inherent problems. At its best, it’s a sophisticated chalkboard. I’ve used it to good effect (I think) when I’m playing a piece of music for the class and I can use powerpoint to write out the libretto or analyze the music without having to stop it or go over it. As to outlines/handouts, I’ve gone back and forth on those. I didn’t use them for years, then had a couple of years when I did use them, and now have gone back to not using them. I think I have sound pedagogical reasons for doing so.

No one has made much of an argument for a laptop, other than resorting to ad hominem arguments, or saying something to the effect of “But look how cool it is.” I am struck by two things: how lamentably bad is the quality of undergraduate instruction, and worse still the state of reading ability among our students.

Two quick thoughts: very few professors these days are competent lecturers, but in their defense, they are provided with no incentives to be one. Everything mitigates against this, including the attitude that “it’s their buck, not mine.” I’m glad few of my professors had that attitude. Second, I was in Ann Arbor recently and was in a coffee shop where I saw some students “doing homework.” One student was at her laptop with earbuds plugged in listening to music, facebook open, her email open, her cell phone next to her and her homework open. Every 30 seconds or so she would toggle to another screen, and then back to her homework. Aristotle himself couldn’t learn under such circumstances. I have it on the authority of some of my students that is this the norm. Does anyone doubt but that they’d be better off without computers around?

JMW: once again, you have said what I would say, only better.

avatar David April 27, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Jeffery, instrumental? I don’t follow you. I’m pointing out that the problem is preexistent the technology. Do I think the technology is inherently flawed pedagogically, depends on whether you have a utilitarian view of education and which goal you have in mind if you do. The problem is that the goals are flawed, which results in flawed pedagogy which results in a misuse of technology.

Rows of laptops illuminating the flaccid faces of over stimulated students for hours on end? Of course this is wrong; but to miss the larger problem by assigning causation to the technology is logically flawed. The only reason I can find for you to make such a flawed argument is because you are constrained to defend your chosen profession. I’m open to being corrected on this point.

Don’t come to professors’ defense, it rings hollow. Professors don’t perform better as a whole because much of the profession is bankrupt of social virtue. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have it’s own moral compass, but that such a compass is distorted by personal interest, politics, esoteric addictions and ennui.

There are great professors, but they are great because of forces other than the conditions of the profession. If you want to say that incentives are what’s holding the rest back, I think that’s a weak enough sapling to kick over.

Computers exist. For my money the best conservation I can manage still requires I deal with that fact. You want them out of your class, you have the power to do that. It doesn’t change that they’ll all boot up the moment they get in the hallway.

avatar Albert April 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Hey David, point taken regarding the pre-existing deficiencies of many professors. I think it’s a too simple either/or dichotomy to call computers a symptom rather than a problem, though. We make our tools, and then our tools shape us, right? I think that’s part of the reaction you’re seeing here (in addition to some professional defensiveness, perhaps); true, it’s not merely the computer’s fault, but it does add to and develop the problems in geometric rather than linear ways that are qualitatively different from pencil and paper distractions. And teachers see and experience this every day, so denying that computers are a problem (in pursuit of perhaps more fundamental problems) is a bit unhelpful.

Another way to put it is to recognize that in practice, more superficial issues do need to be dealt with along the way to addressing more fundamental problems because of the way they interact in reality. So I do think it’s good to identify computers as problematic in the classroom context and so remove them, and that doing so doesn’t constitute an apology for contemporary pedagogical methods. I’m sympathetic to your train of thought, though, the concerns of which are what I was trying to elucidate in my earlier comment, perhaps to no avail.

avatar David April 28, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Albert, I can stipulate to everything in your post. Though I reserve the right to come at this from my own vantage point so that I can keep my righteous indignation intact.

There are windmills to tilt at and professors, er..dragons, to slay.

avatar john Willson April 29, 2010 at 10:23 am

David,

“Commoditization?” Goodness, what a word. One who uses it, and the passive voice, would probably have to ban computers–maybe even pencils–from the classroom. After all, students may doodle with whatever implements you allow.

There are so many serious issues about teaching and learning, such as giving students good things to read, that whether they use a computer, pen, pencil, or quill pen is just a waste of time to debate.

avatar David April 29, 2010 at 10:38 am

I would have thought that a word like commoditization would be tacked onto the dart board of the club house around here.

It is not a waste to debate John, but it is irrational to propose laptops as a causal agent. We didn’t get to this point in the discussion from “laptops are a contributing factor” we got to this point because laptops were blamed for the demise of the classroom “experience” (whatever that is) in higher ed.

This is the same problem we had with Luddites (the real ones). The fact that human beings were already objectified as merely a mechanism of production was revealed by early industrialization methods, not caused by them.

If you don’t get your causal point (the fallen will of man) in the right place you end up contributing to the victicrats and you undermine any real solution to the problem.

avatar Albert April 29, 2010 at 12:28 pm

David, I’d never even think of taking that away from you!

avatar David April 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm

I’m no priest, but God bless you anyway, Albert.

avatar D.W. Sabin April 29, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Pedagogy is shot to hell ever since they changed the World Series into night games (that go on until a damnable 1 am) and a 2nd-12th grader could not sneak their transistor radio into the classroom to report scores to the teacher who banned them from the classroom.

Actually, I’d like to see a classroom of shiny faces staring into their laptops and tweeting and face-booking and emailing while the professor tries vainly to attract attention by throwing Mardis Gras Beads and yelling “show us yer…” oh wait a minute, what was I thinking? Peters already tried this and lost his license to teach in 3 states.

avatar Mark Perkins May 3, 2010 at 1:13 am

Just some thoughts, John W.:

Laptops distract the students who use them and those around them, and in any class with smaller numbers they crush whatever collegial spirit of discussion and interest there might be. Moreover, most 18-22-year-olds these days may not have the self-motivation and attention span required to focus with distractions, but if they have no other options they might become that kind of person.

avatar WmO'H May 3, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Mark brings up a good point- laptops are extremely distracting for the students who are not using them and trying to pay attention, and in a seminar or small lecture it does ruin the sense of community when people are obviously entirely uninterested and unconcerned with the subject.

avatar John Willson May 4, 2010 at 7:33 am

Mark, and others:

Do you remember when students would ask if taking notes would distract their classmates? I do. Do you remember when students asked if they could bring a tape recorder into class? I do. I told them that I had nothing against it in principle, but what was the point? Do you really want to listen to my lecture a second time? What a nice thought! The response to tape recorders was the tape recorder lecturing to a classroom full of tape recorders. Guess what? It didn’t happen.

Crushing “collegial spirit” is when teachers cannot attract the attention of their students. Can you imagine the rabbis worrying about “distractions” or Jesus worrying about the dust moving through the air as He gave the Sermon on the Mount? I was so utterly captivated when my French teacher talked about a word coming from Sanskrit (and I don’t even LIKE the French language!) that I would not have been distracted by a train (do you remember trains?) coming through Coxe Hall at Hobart College.

I also remember taking notes from a teacher who I found out later intentionally scrambled his lectures because he had contempt for his students, and wanted them to fail because of their “distractions.” I outwitted him and actually understood what the creep was trying to do. The point I am making here is that teaching is always, ALWAYS a thing between you and someone who wants to learn. Stop the stuff about pencils or computers getting in the way.

avatar Mark Perkins May 4, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Dr. Willson,

We are not static creatures, and we are not cleanly divided between those who care and those who do not. Students are malleable, and most of us fall somewhere between apathy and dedication.

It’s possible you may underestimate the shortened attention spans of students today. I believe technology does effect the way we think, and the proliferation of television, blogs, facebook, and twitter legitimately inhibits one’s ability to pay attention. Even serious students who care are not immune to distraction.

Moreover, there is a difference of both degree and kind among dust in the air, scribbling of pen on paper, and a glowing laptop screen displaying ESPN scores. I imagine you wouldn’t approve of a marching band in your classroom? How about two people having sex next to you lecturing? Would you blame a student’s lack of self-motivation if they were distracted by two students boxing in the classroom?

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