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Carlo Rotella, Boston College, writes a column in the Boston Globe.

… I teach at [Boston College], where a year’s tuition, fees, room, and board currently add up to $52,624. What are the students paying for? What can’t they get online for free?

In my end of the academy, the humanities, it comes down to one thing, in essence: the other people in the room, teachers, and fellow students. … [Y]ou’re paying for the exclusive company of fellow thinkers who made it through the screening processes of admissions and faculty hiring. That’s it. You can get everything else online, and you can of course do the reading on your own.

Your money buys you the opportunity to pay attention to the other people on campus and to have them pay attention to you — close, sustained, active, fully engaged attention, undistracted by beeps, chimes, tweets, klaxons, ring tones, ads, explosions, continuous news feeds, or other mind-jamming noise. You qualify for admission, you pay your money, and you get four years — maybe the last four years you’ll ever get — to really attend to the ideas of other human beings, thousands of years’ worth of them, including the authors of the texts on the syllabus and the people in the room with you.

You can spend the rest of your life surfing the web, emailing, texting. You’ve got one shot at college. So, at least until the novelty wears off (probably not in my lifetime), that means no laptops in my classroom.

Rotella might have added that most universities are all too happy to follow the logic of this to its money-saving conclusion and put more and more of their courses online…. And it’s not just about saving money. Many classroom professors, faced with techno-ghosts instead of students, take to Powerpoint. If they keep their heads down for fifty minutes, reading slides, these professors don’t have to look up and suffer the grief and humiliation of being ostentatiously ignored by almost every student in the room.

Thus is created the peculiar symmetry of the postmodern classroom: A professor lost to the world via Powerpoint stands in front of a classroom of students lost to the world through the internet.

It can’t last. Increasingly, both sides are seeing the absurdity of it, and going online. Online, there’s no need, ever, to acknowledge the existence of another human being.

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4 Responses to “Another No-Laptopper Heard From.”

  1. Fenster Moop Says:

    Yes yes . . . but to paraphrase Galileo in Google-mangled Italian: è pur si troppo costoso.

    You of all observers have something of a jaundiced eye when it comes to the things that pass for higher learning in higher education. I’d think you’d think Rotella’s piece goes way too far as a rationalization for the over $52.6K a year sticker price. If all, or even most, of the $52.6K supported the overly romanticized version of college life Rotella describes I’d say bully for that and fork it over. But as it stands, it reads like a statement by an ostrich defending a head in sand position. I know UD doesn’t like digital and favors a more classical approach herself–but you don’t need $52.6K a student for that.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Hi Fenster: I agree with all that you’ve said. I simply didn’t get around to talking about overpricing in my post. But you’re right to highlight that.

  3. gladly Says:

    Oh, it can too last, and it will, because it’s easier than teaching, and it’s cost and time and effort effective for teacher and student. Real teaching is work.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    We’ll see, gladly. If UD is right that most professors enthusiastic about laptops in their classrooms are borderline personalities in massive retreat from human interaction, it may be possible for these people to get help.

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