Most Online Courses Suck.

Not all of them do, but most of them do. (Read this blog’s Click-Thru U and/or Technolust categories.) They’re positively criminal for slower learners — and in public high schools, slower learners are exactly the people the system shunts into online “credit recovery” courses, unsupervised, cheating-friendly, online make-up classes. If you flunk out of a person-to-person class, you can still get the credits you need to graduate by pretending you took the same material online. It’s a solution sweeping the nation, a scandal in every state, but UD‘s own Washington DC has had truly remarkable results with the technology: Every year, all but two public schools illegitimately graduate gobs of students.


The romance with tacky online education continues to power forward in this country, because there’s plenty of money in it for the vendor, and because it’s absolute bliss for give-a-shit cynics. Despite all the scandals, expect it to grow.

Take heed of one thing DC schools are doing right away in response to the scandal: They’re keeping the program but calling it something other than “credit recovery.”


But they’ll never beat the pros.




UD has amused herself over the years, compiling various stupid maneuvers professors perform to avoid banning laptops in their classrooms.

There was York University’s Henry Kim:

Kim is fully aware that his students aren’t listening to him because they’re watching shit on their laptops. Instead of banning laptops, however, Kim has taken a page out of Erich Honecker’s East Germany and turned his students into a spy network. If a student sees another student using her laptop for non-class purposes (Kim has already had his students swear some ridiculous pledge, etc.), she is to report that to Kim.

“It’s not meant to be punitive — it’s almost like a thought experiment, and the whole point is to create a new social norm in my class.”

Comrade Honecker speaks! Creating new social norms by encouraging students to turn in other students – that’s the solution to the laptop problem!

And now there’s some person at the University of Pennsylvania:

I had a professor last year who had the TAs sit in the back of the lecture hall, where they could see the screens of the students using their laptops. If they saw someone goofing off or not simply taking notes, they would ring a bell, and everyone would have to close their laptops for several minutes before they could reopen them to continue taking notes. This didn’t help anyone focus; rather, it stirred up anger in the students, that they were being treated like animals who needed to respond to the ring of a bell.

Same basic Honecker approach – designate a person or persons who tell on the naughty laptop user – but I love the addition of a bell… Like Captain von Trapp’s dog whistle… Another thought experiment generating new social norms…

‘Using Laptops in Class Harms Academic Performance, Study Warns’

What a shocker!

This is around the twentieth study to yield results like these.


The real question now is: Why will most professors – assuming they bother to find out these results – not get rid of laptops?

And the answer is easy: Most of them are afraid to. No telling how students will respond.

And the rest of the professors? Laptops make their teaching lives ever so much easier. Life is beautiful when no one’s listening. Many such teachers compound the loveliness by using PowerPoint throughout the class, thus creating what UD calls The Morgue Classroom. They just need to stand there reading words out loud while students watch football games. A nice quiet workable twice weekly experience.

UD takes no position on his suitability for the court. But THIS she likes.

What also stood out was [Neil Gorsuch’s] ban of laptops in the classroom. He forbade students in his [University of Colorado] legal ethics class from using computers — an unusual move within law schools, where laptops are ubiquitous.

The computer exile was intended to eliminate distractions, boost engagement, and prompt students to listen carefully to each other, according to Jordan Henry, a second-year Colorado law student who took Gorsuch’s course last semester. And it was so effective that Henry voluntarily stopped using her laptop in several other classes.

“When you close the computers and get rid of distractions in class, you respond to each other and bring up counterpoints,” she said. “It makes for a true discussion and a much more engaged class — and frankly a more interesting class.”

“Discussion is absolutely the key,” [University of Georgia Journalism Professor John] Soloski said. “Without the computers, there’s not this physical barrier between the professor and the students …”

Allowing laptops, as UD often says, is academic malpractice.

Professors who continue to allow laptop use fall into the following categories.

1. I could give a shit. It’s easier for me to do virtually nothing up there if students are sedated with their fun screens. To make matters perfect, I use old text-heavy PowerPoints and drone and dribble over them. Eventually my teaching will resemble my deep calm when sleeping off benders, and my classroom will be a morgue.

2. I hate and fear humanity, especially students. I look forward to the day when all of them will be hidden from me behind their screens.

That’s about it.

“In the end, though, I decided that the students who were not multi-tasking had a right not to be distracted by others who were. And, perhaps it’s okay for me to be paternalistic — I’m a teacher, after all.”

If you follow University Diaries, you know that her response to the recent spate of banning confessionals is why did it take you so long. But anyway.

“Last week, at the Aspen Ideas festival, there came an interesting little moment between Kentaro Toyama, a computer scientist, and Jim Steyer, a lawyer and entrepreneur. Both declared that they’d banned laptops and other electronic devices in their lecture halls.”

“[F]ar more of [their] colleagues are banning laptops than they did five years ago…”

Well that’s great. That’s just great. Those of us who’ve been screaming for the last ten years about the classroom laptop scam are thrilled. But why isn’t anyone expressing any remorse about a decade of students lost to the fad? Why isn’t anyone saying anything about the many lazy cynical professors who continue to promote laptop use in their classrooms?

No laptops. Another cutting edge idea from the Aspen Ideas festival.

Once again, a university student schools professors on their classroom responsibilities.

Because we are all drawn into the world of the Internet, someone needs to step in and break that distraction. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of Saint Joseph’s University and its faculty. Many of my professors do not allow laptops and make that clear in the syllabus, but many others allow students free rein. These professors that allow laptops, however, often scold people for being on their cellphones. Why? Because they’re distracting. Then why not ban the laptop, a device that not only distracts the user, but also those around them?

More and more, American university students are forced to point out the obvious to their professors. Stop doing this.

It’s pretty unseemly – students having to tell their professors how to be responsible.

And responsible professors have, for the most part, stopped it.

What’s mainly left are the proprietors of what UD calls the morgue classroom, professors who keen over a PowerPoint while their students nod off to Netflix.

Everybody all tucked in and ready for bed.

Emus and Yaks and Bears, Oh My!

As ever, the blessings of the wired classroom.

Bringing it into the classroom is not very smart. Get rid of laptops in the classroom.

And here it is again.

I wonder if university administrators will ever get the message.

Sarah Collins, [a University of Southern California] sophomore, said she wished more professors required laptops and phones to be turned off during class. “It was just nice [in a recent no-laptop classroom] to have everyone in the present, and it led to more participation.”

Brown University, USC… Students are beginning to ask their professors to help them out here.  Will their professors listen?

Once again, evidence of the weird inversion whereby students are telling faculties and administrations how to be grownups.

Ban laptop use in our classrooms, the Brown University editorial board tells the leadership of that school. Don’t pander to us anymore; laptops are creating morgue classrooms. Make us get rid of them.

Other universities have shut off the wireless connection in lecture halls so that students cannot log on to the Internet while in class. This is not an attack [on] technology but rather a modification tactic to improve the dynamic of the student-professor relationship in class. Brown is not immune to these problems and should take action to promote more constructive classroom environments.

A rather disgusting situation, no? Even though all universities are aware that research overwhelmingly demonstrates the astounding damage laptops in classrooms do, most universities cynically and lazily keep to them. This forces the victims of laptops – students themselves – to beg universities to do something about the situation.

“The Office of Teaching & Learning at [the University of Denver] does not ban technology in the classroom. As the office points out on its website, students had plenty of options for not paying attention before laptops became commonplace, whether through daydreaming or doodling.”

Good old Offices of Teaching & Learning. They’re reading (they’re supposed to be reading) the same studies professors are reading (supposed to be reading). In fact, they’re supposed to be the campus experts, the highest campus authorities, on best teaching practices. But although more and more professors are banning laptops (the article from which my post’s title is taken is all about how more and more DU professors are banning technology) in the light of overwhelming evidence that they damage comprehension, attention, and participation, most university teaching centers seem to have no policy on the matter – or they think laptops are terrific, wonderful, great…

DU’s office still thinks it’s clever to compare distraction through looking out the window or dragging your pencil across note paper to having instant access to the entire world of movies, stores, news outlets, and social media.

Why can’t the Office of Teaching & Learning learn?

Stupid smart people; and an amazing choice of photo.

Two things you can be sure of when you teach online via a campus platform:

1. Your university is watching.
2. There’s a written record of everything you say.

All sorts of eyes are peering into your online course: Your students, naturally; but also university administrators, on-campus tech people, the for-profit firm your school has probably hired to manage various course functions, etc. This is not a … freedom-rich environment. Not for blowing off the course and giving everyone an A, and not for sexual harassment.

MIT has removed the lectures of a retired faculty member from a popular online learning platform after determining that he had sexually harassed a woman on the Internet, the school’s News Office announced Monday.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology began investigating the matter after a learner on the platform MITx filed a complaint against Walter Lewin in October. According to the MIT News Office website, the alleged victim said the harassment began when she was a learner in one of Lewin’s online courses.

During the investigation, MIT also looked at additional interactions between Lewin and other online learners.

UD is guessing that the actual harassment occurred outside of the course’s comment threads; she’s guessing that some relatively light, slightly off-color badinage happened in those threads, and that the badinage at some point moved onto gchat or email exchanges… Though it’s always possible Lewin was stupid enough to put harassing words into the course interactions proper…

But anyway. Get a load of the picture the Globe ran with the piece!

Spectacularly mature and well-written piece on laptops in the classroom…

… by a Wesleyan University undergrad. One of the keenest, calmest, most honest, considerations UD has seen of the phenomenon.

It is our obligation as students to delve more deeply into the impacts of technology on our education and our values, and this can only happen through reflection about the influence of technology on what and how we learn… The questions raised by technology are not just questions about distraction or temptation. They are deeper human questions about how we learn, and they must be addressed if we ever hope to reach an understanding of how technology should be used in the service of learning. Whatever decision professors or students might make about the use of technology in the classroom, these questions can serve as springboards for discussion about the importance, for example, of an engaging classroom environment, and about why complete focus and open interaction with one’s classmates are essential to this environment.

Concisely, incisively, she gets to the core of why professors who allow – much less encourage – laptops in their classroom are guilty of pedagogical malpractice.

But – as UD has said for years on this blog – laptop lecturers, who totally grasp the advantages of talking to an audience that ignores you (especially if, like many of these lecturers, you spice up the classroom sizzle with extensive PowerPoint use), will never shut down the enterprise. Nor will their university’s administrators, who after all have been giving these drones awards for innovative use of technology in the classroom. As UD has always said, and as this and other student editorials suggest, change will come only from a popular revolt.

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