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You can’t be serious

Among the many student-authored attacks on laptop use in the classroom that UD has read, this one, by a student at the University of Maine, stands out. The writer specifies a destructive aspect of classroom laptop use that I’ve thought about but been unable to formulate very well. I’m grateful to her for helping me clarify it.

….This semester, I wanted to take an elective class outside my major, which had such high demand I had to e-mail the department, talk with the department’s administrative assistant and meet with the instructor before getting in.

After devoting all that time just to enroll, my classmates’ behavior has been extremely disappointing. Of the more than 20 students in the class, about half were there last Wednesday, and all but three were on their laptops, checking e-mail, playing games and surfing the Web.

It doesn’t end there. One who had foregone the computer was texting on her cell phone under the desk the entire class. That left two of us listening attentively to the professor….

Everyone talks about how distracting it is to have bevies of computer screens bursting with sports, porn, and Facebook surrounding you during a lecture or discussion. But few people focus on how demoralizing it is to realize that, although you’re in a university classroom, almost no one’s taking education seriously. No one’s even thinking. They’re just farting around.

UD is aware that students farted around in 1959 too. But puh-leeze. They doodled, exchanged notes, and stared out the window. They didn’t have an international command and control center on the desk in front of them.

This writer understands the institutional implication of a failure to be serious:

These laptop addicts should think about how their actions reflect on them, as well as their major and, ultimately, the university. With talk of consolidating colleges and eliminating programs, they should consider what affect their attention or apathy could [have on] future students at UMaine.

Indeed. Why hold classes if you can’t hold classes?

UD‘s heart goes out to this writer — this still-serious student. If it’s not too late, and if she can afford it, the student should drop out of UMaine and find a serious school.


UD finds moving the writing of students who are aware of the contempt for professors and universities much laptop use in classrooms represents. But UD finds downright baffling statements like this one from a dean.

Jim McClellan, dean of liberal studies at [Northern Virginia Community College’s] Alexandria campus who has taught there for 35 years, said he is most concerned with how to reach millennial students and would like to see this matter discussed broadly [at an upcoming summit on community colleges].

“The nature of students has changed in the past few years as a result of technology,” McClellan said. “We see shorter attention spans. We see students who think there’s nothing wrong with texting or using laptops to message back and forth in class. We have students who arrive late and leave early or just don’t pay attention at all. I think I slept through most of my junior year of college, but I at least tried to do so [in]conspicuously. I think there’s no interest among students to cover up not paying attention in class. How can we teach students who have grown up in this environment and with technologies we just couldn’t imagine when we came up?” …

Well, let’s see what the problem might be.

Instead of banning laptops and other technology from your classrooms, you do everything you can to encourage classroom and out of classroom use of technology. You make this effing big deal about it! We’re special! Everyone at our school gets a Mac! And all that other technoshit too! We drag our faculty into special seminars on how to encourage their students to bring laptops to class! On how to PowerPoint everything so they don’t have to teach! Our professors get special introduction of new teaching techniques points on their annual reports for showing students how to download lectures so they don’t have to go to class!

Listen, McClellan.

Far be it from UD to keep you from attending an exciting summit with the vice-president’s wife where the international news media films you wringing your hands over your obnoxious students. If that’s the picture of your college you want to broadcast to the world, go to it.

But there are other things you can do about the situation.

Margaret Soltan, April 19, 2010 2:03PM
Posted in: technolust

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6 Responses to “You can’t be serious”

  1. Polish Peter Says:

    Two comments on Dean McClellan’s remarks:
    (1) the appeaser feeds the crocodile in the hope it will eat him last;
    (2) Lord, spare me from any conference labeled a “summit”.

    By the way, is “[in]conspicuously” post-modern wordplay, or is it correcting some risible usage error?

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Correcting a risible usage error.

  3. Bill Gleason Says:

    Rather like ingenuous and disingenuous.

    (I went to see Alice last night.)

  4. Jonathan Says:

    I wonder which college will be the first to impose a campus-wide classroom laptop ban and use it in their marketing to prospective students.

  5. theprofessor Says:

    I wonder at how many places the faculty were asked about the desirability of wireless internet everywhere, because the consequences were so very predictable. I am sure the answer here would have been a resounding “no.” There was practically zero input from what is termed here “the academic operations.” The decision was made between the development and admissions offices; wireless was seen mostly as a marketing tool. I feel bad for the trustees who paid for it: they are incredibly nice people, and this was pitched to them as the GREATEST FRIKKIN EDUCATIONAL ADVANCE IN THE WHOLE FRIKKIN HISTORY OF THE FRIKKIN WORLD!!!!!!!!

  6. ricki Says:

    I think this post – and I’ve enjoyed all the laptop-in-class posts – highlights the dichotomy in how profs/admins think about laptops in class.

    Some of us HATE them. Hate them with a passion because they do allow students to very visibly “fart around.” It’s terribly demoralizing to the prof – as well as to serious students – to realize that a lot of people in the class have very clearly “checked out.” And even for students who might give half a crap about the class, the Web is a very strong temptation.

    But then there are those who think that students bringing laptops to class is a badge of our campus being Technologically Advanced! The College of the Future! And that we dinosaurs who don’t like students surfing Facebook in class either need to accept it and get with the times, or Teach More Better! so that the students AREN’T tempted to “check out.”

    And that’s what really infuriates me: the implication that it’s OUR fault for not being “interesting enough” to compete with eBay or Facebook or YouTube or God knows what else the students are surfing.

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