July 9th, 2015
“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.

April 1st, 2015
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.

March 5th, 2015
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.

March 5th, 2015
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?

March 3rd, 2015
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.

January 27th, 2015
“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?

December 9th, 2014
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!

October 31st, 2014
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.

September 25th, 2014
“[W]hen I do have a specific reason to ask everyone to set aside their devices (‘Lids down,’ in the parlance of my department), it’s as if someone has let fresh air into the room. The conversation brightens, and more recently, there is a sense of relief from many of the students.”

Another slow-witted tech expert finally bans laptops from the college classroom. Turns out

Asking a student to stay focused while she has alerts on is like asking a chess player to concentrate while rapping their knuckles with a ruler at unpredictable intervals.

Turns out

[D]esigners and engineers have every incentive to capture as much of my students’ attention as they possibly can, without regard for any commitment those students may have made to me or to themselves about keeping on task.

Turns out

[M]ultitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.

Turns out

Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class — it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.

Turns out

(To the people who say “Students have always passed notes in class”, I reply that old-model notes didn’t contain video and couldn’t arrive from anywhere in the world at 10 megabits a second.)

Turns out

Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion but creates a sense of permission that opting out is OK, and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers. In an environment like this, students need support for the better angels of their nature (or at least the more intellectual angels), and they need defenses against the powerful short-term incentives to put off complex, frustrating tasks. That support and those defenses don’t just happen, and they are not limited to the individual’s choices. They are provided by social structure, and that structure is disproportionately provided by the professor, especially during the first weeks of class.

Wow. Who knew.

Everyone. A decade ago.

July 8th, 2014
Some people have to learn by doing.

In my freshman seminar, weeks passed with all of us typing aimlessly on our computers and staying silent when my professor asked questions to the group. Finally, she had all of us stand up as she walked by and checked our computers. At most, two students were actually typing up notes. She banned computers from then on, and class discussions improved drastically.

A Dartmouth student recalls her very wasteful freshman seminar professor.

Professors can avoid this scandalous waste of time and money by investing five minutes acquainting themselves with the state of research on laptops in the classroom.

June 7th, 2014
“The act of typing effectively turns the note-taker into a transcription zombie, while the imperfect recordings of the pencil-pusher reflect and excite a process of integration, creating more textured and effective modes of recall.”

And no, it doesn’t matter whether students are connected to the internet during class or not. Research was done with

the laptops … not connected to the Internet. This means the results are not due to students spending time checking e-mail or surfing the Web. In most settings, such distractions will only impair performance even more. Indeed, prior research has found that laptop multitasking impairs learning and can even have negative effects on non-laptop users sitting nearby.

If you ask UD, who has been railing against classroom laptop use for years (see some of her posts here), this activity is on the face of it obviously any idiot can see plain as the nose on your face socially as well as intellectually destructive. A lot of professors – for murky reasons – have been sitting on their asses waiting for the research we all knew would come out to come out… But even with insane amounts of research confirming what anyone with common sense would have known a decade ago, plenty of professors will cleave to the laptop. Why?

(And by the way don’t even think about fully laptopped/online degree programs and their capacity to teach people anything. There’s a reason UD calls online programs cheesy.)

Well, the reasons aren’t pretty. Let’s see.

Do whatever you want! I’m afraid of you… I want a good course evaluation… The university is worried about attrition rates and has decided to give in to all of your demands… You pretend to be taking a class, and I’ll pretend to teach. This won’t put a strain on either of us… Lecturing is authoritarian. The last thing you want is some Hitlerian up here talking to you as if she has something to impart that you don’t already know or can’t find on your computer… You’re all too timid to look up from your screens and contribute to a discussion… Thank God for the laptop, which allows you to hide behind your screens and keep to yourself during class rather than be challenged in the unpleasant way of the seminar!…

And if you have a professor with a fully laptopped classroom who also depends almost exclusively on PowerPointed lectures where she (head down, monotonally) reads from each slide? Yikes.

May 19th, 2014
Some old guy’s failure.

In my film and philosophy class, for example, I have to insist that students put their devices away while watching movies that don’t immediately engage their senses with explosions, sex or gag lines. At first they see this as some old guy’s failure to grasp their skill at multitasking, but eventually most relearn how to give themselves to an emotional and intellectual experience, one that is deeply engaging partly because it does not pander to their most superficial habits of attention.

February 10th, 2014
Thus laptops do make louses of us all.

Yet another professor allows himself to be reduced to a low-level Stasi operative.

From the extensive official directives issued to students in a class at the University of Santa Clara:

(b) When in class, you may not disturb me or your classmates with irrelevant computer or phone activities.
(c) Examples of violations: watching videos, checking Facebook, texting, playing games, doing anything related to your phone, or walking in late yet talking loudly while getting settled.

L.R. 4.1 Penalties for violation:
(i) For each violation of L.R. 4, points will be deducted from the 200 “professionalism” points available this term. (That is the same value as your revised CF2 memo.)
(ii) I dislike public shaming, but to encourage professional behavior, when I observe impermissible conduct I will announce a reminder about the problem. I will also note the student(s) involved, and later email notice of how many points were lost.

It’s pretty clear that this professor spends most of his prep time drawing up class conduct contracts, and most of his actual class time calculating demerits. The simple expedient of banning laptops and phones seems not to have occurred to him. As it is, he’s well on his way toward becoming a higher-level operative.

December 11th, 2013
I Am A Camera.

[The University of Florida] is now studying new ways to combat cheating as it launches an online university in the spring. This includes software that uses cameras to monitor students as they take tests, said Jen Day Shaw, dean of students.

Surely you can do better than that. Multiple cameras monitored by multiple camera monitors glaring down at a person trying to be engaged in independent thought is nothing. After all, getting a friend to dress up like you and take your exam (take your whole course) is a piece of cake.

No, no. Here’s where you have to go, UF. Body sensors. That person trying to focus, think, and write needs to be hooked up – heart rate, sweat production, digit-movement patterns… Fingerprinting each time the person logs on. And more.

And what of the authentication of the professor/ facilitator/ air traffic controller? Ever met the person you’ve hired (or your for-profit vendor has provided) to teach the course? Even if you have, how do you know that’s the person teaching the course? If you can’t authenticate the instructor’s identity, the instructor can give the course to a drudge in India, take payment for the course, and give the drudge a cut. That way the instructor can spend her time in a spa or writing an article or something. Just like Julius Nyang’oro, she has figured out a way to collect a salary for doing nothing.

So the instructor will have to be surveilled pretty constantly too. Recall the AAUP draft report on online courses:

Online teaching platforms and learning management systems may permit faculty members to learn whether students in a class did their work and how long they spent on certain assignments. Conversely, however, a college or university administration could use these systems to determine whether faculty members were logging into the service “enough,” spending “adequate” time on certain activities, and the like.

Dylan said it long ago:

I would not be so all alone. Everybody must get stoned.

Everybody – student, air traffic controller, supervisor of online air traffic controller, executive vice president in charge of whether faculty members are logging in often enough — everybody must get filmed.

Well, they’ll film ya when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll film ya just a-like they said they would
They’ll film ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
Then they’ll film ya when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

Well, they’ll film ya when you’re walkin’ ’long the street
They’ll film ya when you’re tryin’ to keep your seat
They’ll film ya when you’re walkin’ on the floor
They’ll film ya when you’re walkin’ to the door
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

They’ll film ya when you’re at the breakfast table
They’ll film ya when you are young and able
They’ll film ya when you’re tryin’ to make a buck
They’ll film ya and then they’ll say, “good luck”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

Well, they’ll film you and say that it’s the end
Then they’ll film you and then they’ll come back again
They’ll film you when you’re riding in your car
They’ll film you when you’re playing your guitar
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

Well, they’ll film you when you walk all alone
They’ll film you when you are walking home
They’ll film you and then say you are brave
They’ll film you when you are set down in your grave
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get filmed

December 5th, 2013
“We’d all be better off if more professors [would ban] laptops.”

Students – like this one at the University of Maryland – know it. But many can’t stop playing screen games, even in class, so they won’t back a ban.

“Why,” asks this same student, “do professors take this lackadaisical approach when they can ban laptops and get rid of such high levels of distraction altogether?”

Because many professors like what UD has called The Morgue Classroom [scroll down]. A night of the living dead classroom — lights set low, silent students enrapt before screens, professors intoning PowerPoints — this is, let us admit, a beautiful thing, a mystical thing, a floating atmosphere that frees the dreaming mind to roam…

Emily Fish, who calls for the ban, is a freshman at College Park, and, as such, still educable. She can still be brought to feel the dark pull of the new classroom. But there’s undoubtedly a learning curve. Many of the changes occurring in twenty-first century classrooms need to be clarified to students. Think here of the problems Murray Siskind, in Don DeLillo’s White Noise, had with the students in his seminar celebrating the car crash.

“[My students think these more and more massive car crashes in movies] mark the suicide wish of technology. The drive to suicide, the hurtling rush to suicide.”

“What do you say to them?”

“These are mainly B-movies, TV movies, rural drive-in movies. I tell my students not to look for apocalypse in such places. I see these car crashes as part of a long tradition of American optimism. They are positive events, full of the old ‘can-do’ spirit. Each car crash is meant to be better than the last. There is a constant upgrading of tools and skills, a meeting of challenges. A director says, ‘I need this flatbed truck to do a midair double somersault that produces an orange ball of fire with a thirty-six-foot diameter, which the cinematographer will use to light the scene.’ I tell my students if they want to bring technology into it, they have to take this into account, this tendency toward grandiose deeds, toward pursuing a dream.”

“A dream? How do your students reply?”

“Just the way you did. ‘A dream?’ All that blood and glass, that screeching rubber. What about the sheer waste, the sense of a civilization in a state of decay?”

“What about it?” I said.

“I tell them it’s not decay they are seeing but innocence. The movie breaks away from complicated human passions to show us something elemental, something fiery and loud and head-on. It’s a conservative wish-fulfillment, a yearning for naivete. We want to be artless again. We want to reverse the flow of experience, of worldliness and its responsibilities. My students say, ‘Look at the crushed bodies, the severed limbs. What kind of innocence is this?'”

“What do you say to that?”

“I tell them they can’t think of a car crash in a movie as a violent act. It’s a celebration. A reaffirmation of traditional values and beliefs. I connect car crashes to holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth. We don’t mourn the dead or rejoice in miracles. These are days of secular optimism, of self-celebration. We will improve, prosper, perfect ourselves. Watch any car crash in any American movie. It is a high-spirited moment like old-fashioned stunt flying, walking on wings. The people who stage these crashes are able to capture a lightheartedness, a carefree enjoyment that car crashes in foreign movies can never approach.”

“Look past the violence.”

“Exactly. Look past the violence, Jack. There is a wonderful brimming spirit of innocence and fun.”

The Morgue Classroom breaks away from complication to make the classroom a chapel of private fantasies – sex fantasies, sports fantasies, gun fantasies, crash fantasies, whatever you seek from the screen.

Perhaps eventually the Morgue Classroom will shake itself awake and morph into something like a circle jerk. But that’s probably not for a few more years.

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