Derail moved to MeTa: reading blogs in class September 8, 2005 10:06 PM   Subscribe

I would like to discuss the ethics of reading blogs during class.
posted by achmorrison to Etiquette/Policy at 10:06 PM (63 comments total)

As a college teacher, I find it highly objectionable that a student would go to class, pull out a laptop and read cached web pages. Why even go to class? How is it not disruptive to at least one other student in the class?

As a meta-issue, (and without the benefit of seeing the deleted comments) I find the deletion of comments related to question as posed by the asker to be unfair. The question was framed around taking the laptop to a class to read web pages. Therefore, objections raised to that idea are potentially valid answers to the question, even if those answers are not what the asker WANTS to hear.

Example of a valid question that would probably be deleted: Don't show up to class, because you will cause others difficulty in learning and it is unfair to them. Stay in your room and surf the web.

OTOH, if the question was simply "How do I cache web pages for offline reading?" then I would agree with the deletions.
posted by achmorrison at 10:12 PM on September 8, 2005


Numerous students in my classes pull out laptops to type notes on. No one cares, is bothered, or bats an eyelid. Some instructors (ridiculously, IMO) require attendance. Some instructors are also morons, and incapable of maintaining the attention they require. It's an eminently fair question.
posted by hototogisu at 10:19 PM on September 8, 2005


Heh... I played bridge at the back of one of my first year classes. I guess I'm not really that proud of it anymore, but it was a lot of fun at the time!
posted by Chuckles at 10:20 PM on September 8, 2005


Hah. I had the same reaction but stifled the urge to post a snarky comment in the AskMe thread. I guess you managed to stifle it too... but a MeTa thread? "Discuss the ethics?" Here?? Yeesh. Talk about wasting class time.

Find something to care about.
posted by scarabic at 10:24 PM on September 8, 2005


achmorrison: Are you really that out of touch with what happens in classrooms? I can think of more than a few of my professors who so belabored their points that multitasking during their lectures was the only way to stay awake.
posted by mischief at 10:26 PM on September 8, 2005


Students these days, with their lap-top computational devices and their velocopedes! Don't they know that they are lucky to sup at the table of my acquired wisdom? I have a terminal degree; I AM QUALIFIED TO TEACH!
posted by klangklangston at 10:31 PM on September 8, 2005


For the record there were three comments, one of which was a variant of "Go home and read the newspaper instead, don't read the newspaper in class" and the other which agreed with it and a third that just said "This is not what askme is for". None of the comments addressed the question at all; if they had, they would have stayed. The question was about how to read content offline, it was not about the ethics of reading non-class content during class. Maybe I'm just too used to laptops being a classroom fixture that people saying "keep them at home" seems absurd to me.

We usually see answers like this in the Mac/PC threads or in "What sort of gun should I get?" threads where people say "Don't buy a gun!" or drug threads. Those answer derail threads and get in the way of people getting answers to their questions.
posted by jessamyn at 10:35 PM on September 8, 2005


How is it not disruptive to at least one other student in the class?

I don't follow. Why is it necessarily disruptive anyone else, assuming laptop-weilding is not itself a shocking breach of that classroom's etiquette?

Laptops were everywhere when I was in school.
posted by cortex at 10:36 PM on September 8, 2005


disruptive to anyone else, of course.
posted by cortex at 10:37 PM on September 8, 2005


So say if I were to ask you, hypothetically, 'how did you make you sphincter tighten up so forcefully?' and you were to say 'sphincter tightening is unethical,' then that would be an answer to my question?

Is this one of those postmodern Lacanian methods of deconstructing language or some such that you guys love, or did they stop teaching close reading in grad school?
posted by drpynchon at 10:37 PM on September 8, 2005


I can think of more than a few of my professors who so belabored their points that multitasking during their lectures was the only way to stay awake.

Contracts. The man had a one-example repertoire. "So... let's say you want to sell... a bicycle.

Well, I study the class materials and forget about the lectures for awhile. A long while. I talk myself into going back as a new year's resolution, in fact.

Three months later: "So let's say you want to deviate from the statute-provided terms of sale for... a bicycle."

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
posted by dreamsign at 10:41 PM on September 8, 2005


I'm always wary of someone defining ethical behavior for someone else placed lower in a hierarchy.
posted by rdr at 10:49 PM on September 8, 2005


It's not even an ethical discussion. If you want to pay to attend lectures you aren't listening to, fine. Makes about as much sense as most of what goes on in the Academy. Me? I read blogs at work, where they pay me to let my attention wander. Suckers ;)
posted by scarabic at 10:55 PM on September 8, 2005


Gosh, the sheer madness of it! If my professors let me skip class on a consistent basis I'd get a job, show up for tests and occasionally turn in some homework. Class is such a waste of time if you get most of your info from reading--especially if the professor merely offers hackneyed abbreviations of the assigned texts. This isn't an ethical question--it's a question of salvation!
posted by hototogisu at 11:03 PM on September 8, 2005


As a college teacher, I find it highly objectionable that a student would go to class, pull out a laptop and read cached web pages

Then punish people you catch doing that in your classes. If other instructors don't punish it, or tolerate it, then mind your own beeswax.

Why even go to class?

Your students, as are mine, are adults and can make their own schedules as they see fit, and devote attention when and where they see fit. If they want to show up and pay no attention, damn the consequences and full speed ahead, that's their prerogative.

How is it not disruptive to at least one other student in the class?

Why would it be any more disruptive than someone using a laptop to take notes?

Frankly, it seems not-unreasonable for bright people in introductory-but-required courses. Lord knows I did plenty of crosswords, paying half attention to the lecture, while I was aceing intro microecon.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:05 PM on September 8, 2005


mischief: I can think of more than a few of my professors who so belabored their points that multitasking during their lectures was the only way to stay awake.

I spent my three years of law school lectures either doing cryptic crosswords, or teaching the person next to me how to do cryptic crosswords.

This is why I'm still sane. Mostly.
posted by bright cold day at 11:25 PM on September 8, 2005


If it's any consolation, I spent three years of law school lectures NOT SITTING IN A FUCKING LECTURE HALL and reading genuinely significant texts, but now I have a terminal degree so "I AM QUALIFIED TO TEACH" in the klangklangston sense and no one (save MeFites) are the slightest bit wiser. Until now.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:00 AM on September 9, 2005


Numerous students in my classes pull out laptops to type notes on.

Um, you only know this if you are in the back of the room, and you probably aren't if you are teaching. As a TA who often does sit in the back of the room, I'd guess 50-75% aren't doing what you charitably assume they are. CmpSci majors in particular seem to take a perverse pride in programming/playing games during classes in other subjects, even subjects which they purport to enjoy.

Not that it really bothers me - if they do it in section, though, it ends up coming out of their participation grade.
posted by advil at 12:36 AM on September 9, 2005


How is it not disruptive to at least one other student in the class?

It is as disruptive as taking notes on a laptop. Would you prevent people from taking notes on their laptop?
posted by j.edwards at 12:51 AM on September 9, 2005


It's insanely shitty, because it distracts me if I'm sitting behind/beside the rude asshole who's doing it. I'm sure I'm not the only student who has been thus distracted.
posted by digitalis at 1:16 AM on September 9, 2005


So what about the ethics of snooping over your classmates shoulder to see what they're doing on their laptop?
posted by Tenuki at 1:21 AM on September 9, 2005


What's that (paradoxical) principle that states people learn and retain more with distractions? It recently received some web attention somewhere.

If it wasn't for distractions, I would have gone insane in classes and lectures.

In many introduction and intermediate lecture classes I could listen and absorb the lecture just fine - if not better - while doodling, drawing, or even reading a novel. And not just in a half-assed, general sort of way. Upon being called to interact or recap I could just as easily participate, answer or interpret in detail.

Just because a student isn't obtaining or pursuing their learning or education in the exact, precise method that someone is attempting to teach them in doesn't mean that by default they aren't learning.

If someone as a teacher feels threatened or annoyed by the concept of someone needing distractions in their class, perhaps they should put aside their ego for a moment and question their teaching skill, style, lesson plan or lecture attendance requirements.

Professional teachers and educators no longer have a sort of defacto monopoly on knowledge diffusion. Many people thrive on multitasking. Some people must multitask to keep up with everything on their plates, or simply to keep up with self-prescribed data consumption requirements.

I know teaching is often a thankless, brutal job, but that doesn't mean they need to create a brutal classroom environment. And just because someone a professional teacher or tenured professor doesn't mean that their learning should stop as well.

The best teachers I've had realize this intuitively and intimately, and they're always the ones that do their best to engage the class and to adapt to each individual class or even student the best that they can.

The teacher doesn't have to be a comedian. They don't have to display some dramatic theatrical presence. They don't even have to add artificial spice to dry topics and materials. They just have to engage, flow with the interactions and pull the stick out of their ass.
posted by loquacious at 2:37 AM on September 9, 2005


For all of those so self-absorbed that you can't understand why it's distracting. If a moving screen (and if you scroll anything, even offline news, it moves) is in your vision, even your peripheral vision, it's distracting.

Guess what? That's why lectures work better with visual aids. Think slideshows. If someone is taking notes, and your gaze is occasionally caught, at least it's on topic. The reading news crap is fucking over-the-top. Don't be surprised if someone "accidentally" spills a drink on said laptop.

I've had to put up with idiots who not only read news, but fucking play video games. If you're having a hard time paying attention, imagine how much harder it is to pay attention with that crap (and clicking) going on. Some of us actually think classes (even the boring ones) are important.
posted by digitalis at 3:03 AM on September 9, 2005


Dude, where's your Ritalin?
posted by loquacious at 3:07 AM on September 9, 2005


So how do you feel about other moving things, digitalis? Are the people around you in your classes permitted to shift in their chairs? Scratch their foreheads? Write stuff? Because, man, all that moving in your peripheral vision must surely be incredibly distracting to you.

Plus, in my experience you don't see laptop screens move in your peripheral vision. Conventional screens, sure, but those aren't lugged to classrooms. LCD screens, though, filter out to the side, so if you're sitting beside me, basically all you're seeing is black unless you're looking intentionally. And if you're looking intentionally, your distraction is your own fault, not mine.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:56 AM on September 9, 2005


Whenever I played video games in class, I always sat in an area where my screen/clicking/etc... were invisible to everybody else (usually the back of a large lecture hall).

I agree that reading a blog in class could be distracting/harmful/disrespectful in a few situations, but I can think of a bunch of situations where it isn't.

Unless the question asked had an element of "Will my professor mind in situation...?", I think any comments on that aspect would have been a derail and jessamyn did the right thing.
posted by onalark at 5:29 AM on September 9, 2005


I respectfully disagree with jessamyn that this should be brought to metatalk. It isn't at all metafilter-related, and just because you want to discuss something doesn't mean you should do it here. It might be different if it was your question and you wanted those answers personally, but... come on.

And, as long as we're here, the fact that you're a professor and you have a problem with stuff like this is amazingly childish.
posted by odinsdream at 5:44 AM on September 9, 2005


To be fair, if you're going to be distracted or distracting, it's nice to sit in back of or away from the class.

If you want to not be distracted, sit in the front.

And, sorry. My "where's your Ritalin" comment was uncalled for.

But "The reading news crap is fucking over-the-top. Don't be surprised if someone "accidentally" spills a drink on said laptop." is just... loaded and fraught with frustration and anger far and above someone scrolling through some cached pages on a laptop. Don't be surprised if someone "accidently" busts you in the nose for "accidently" spilling your drink on their expensive laptop.

Anyway, "over-the-top" would probably begin with incessantly popping gum, listening to headphones or speakers, talking in class and run the gamut right up into openly masturbating, fighting or running around naked and being a drunken idiot. (All things I've actually seen!)

Reading text on a laptop is so far down the list of inappropriate behavior it doesn't deserve this level of concern or anger.
posted by loquacious at 5:46 AM on September 9, 2005


I would like to discuss the ethics of reading blogs during class.

I would like to wave my weiner at you. That don't mean I go ahead and do it, though.

At least not unless it's Friday.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:56 AM on September 9, 2005


It's rude, no doubt. The fix is to make sure that a large portion of the grade rests on the final which will rely heavily on material that appeared in your lectures and nowhere else. In the past students have been routinely dismissed from lecture, with appropriate consequence to their grades, for reading newspapers, playing cards etc. With a laptop who knows what they are doing? If you catch them then I think it is fine to dismiss them for the day and ding their grade a bit. The problem will be that after you do that once, they will get too quick at closing browser windows to be caught and it could turn into a game, a game you will not win. It is best to ignore it at the time but let them suffer the academic consequences later.
posted by caddis at 6:01 AM on September 9, 2005


Further, since I'm here. Wordjunkie that I am, I'm compelled to question what the fuck someone who calls themselves a 'college teacher' is doing using the word 'ethics' to describe students' habits in the lecture hall.

*does so*

I hereby ritually insult and challenge you, College Teacher, freak hair a-flutter: are you stupid, ignorant, or merely semi-literate? If there is any argument that you can offer, anything whatsoever that even in the most tenuous and pantyshield whisper-thin way connects 'ethics' with 'lecture hall laptop usage', I'll eat this goddamn thread uncooked, just see if I don't.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:07 AM on September 9, 2005


If it weren't so early here I would want to have some of what stavros is drinking.
posted by caddis at 6:22 AM on September 9, 2005


In high school I used to read car magazines in the back of class. By medical school I had progressed to doing crosswords with others in the back of class. If I were to go back to school for a PhD, I shudder to think how low my classroom ethics would sink.

I am also an assistant professor and routinely lecture to small groups of medical students at the end of the day, when several of them can barely keep their eyes open. I really could care less what they do in class, or if they show up, as long as they get the material in whatever way works for them. There is a test at the end, and they will either pass it or not. Ethics never really enters the equation, unless they cheat on the exam (and judging by the scores, they are not cheating too much).
posted by TedW at 6:22 AM on September 9, 2005


stavros, beware! This thread is fugu.

I beg you to reconsider. If not, contract a professional to prepare it safely for you.
posted by loquacious at 6:31 AM on September 9, 2005


Let's see. Poison...Poison....Poison...Ah, tasty fish.
posted by Tenuki at 6:36 AM on September 9, 2005


I would like to discuss the ethics of reading blogs during class.

It really isn't much of a discussion if you state your position and then don't respond to any of the questions raised by anyone else in the thread. It's more like a lecture. Perhaps there's a parallel to be drawn to your classroom experience and/or technique.

Or perhaps that's unfair, but it does seem like what you really wanted to do was to whine about a comment deletion. A totally appropriate deletion.
posted by anapestic at 6:38 AM on September 9, 2005


Jessamyn did the right thing; my comment in the AskMe thread was out of line. I emailed Saucy Intruder to apologize, and repeat that apology here.

What I'm seeing in this thread is that some believe they're only disrespecting the people around them --- the professor and their classmates --- if those people notice. That actions and intent matter not, only whether those actions are noticed. This seems to me like a juvenile understanding of respect.
posted by gleuschk at 6:43 AM on September 9, 2005


I used to drink whisky and coke in my Dostoevsky class. My prof just told me to bring him one.
posted by sciurus at 6:55 AM on September 9, 2005


I crochet in class. I do homework from other classes. I read books. When I get a laptop, I'm sure I'll surf the Net in class too. I've had mid-afternoon classes where I had to eat to stay awake. We develop strategies like this not because we disrespect the prof or our fellow students, but because:

a) We're used to multitasking. MSN, music, and homework simultaneously? That's normal. I get fidgety otherwise, and you don't want me absent-mindedly tapping on the desk.
b) I think sleeping in class or skipping it altogether is much more disrespectful.
c) Just because I'm crocheting doesn't mean that I'm not listening to you. I'll take notes when you say something I need to know.
d) I do my readings. If you're going over something I already know, or answering a question that I could answer, I don't need to listen closely. But I need to do something.
e) Some classes are ... horrible. And they mark you on attendance.

Now, I don't do these things in super-small classes, and I do try to sit where I'm not bothering people. I don't need to resort to these strategies in really good classes, because they have my attention. But in classes where I seem to be the only one who understands what we're doing and the prof needs to explain basic concepts YET AGAIN, I just want to scratch my eyes out. (Hello, Linguistic Syntax!) And don't get me started on profs who won't put anything in the course kit that disagrees with them and say things like, "All we need to know about the woman's psyche is that she's the object of male desire." Then I'm reading the newspaper to keep from stabbing you in the eye with my pencil.

As for other students, I doubt that a lot of them have a problem with it, since most of us fidget in one way or another, and there are invariably empty seats at the front of the room for people who are easily distracted. If they refuse to move up there... well, I'm paying my tuition, not theirs. I don't hold them responsible for my education either.
posted by heatherann at 7:17 AM on September 9, 2005


gleuschk: Fair enough. People don't respect your authora-tie. Maybe it's because you're not worthy of the academic respect? I mean, you're obviously someone who doesn't have a harm-based system of ethics, but rather a "traditional" view of teacher/student relations. Why don't you respect them enough to teach an interesting class, or to allow them to make their own choices. If you're doing a good job as a teacher, your lectures should add something to the material that's crucial for the understanding of the topic. If they don't get that and do poorly, what's the problem? If they do get it, and are still able to fuck around during class, what's the problem?
I've done more crosswords in class than I would have thought possible before beginning my college career. And frankly, last semester's (required) class where we learned that "the internet is a 'technology'" was so fucking retarded that I not only resented having to be there, but I went out of my way to find distractions for myself before class.
posted by klangklangston at 7:31 AM on September 9, 2005


I am a college professor, and I figure it is my job to make what I am doing at the front of the classroom relevant and important and interesting enough to keep the students' attention. If they are all reading Metafilter, I am doing something wrong.
posted by LarryC at 7:34 AM on September 9, 2005


I find the deletion of comments related to question as posed by the asker to be unfair.

It's not unfair at all. Askme's clearly stated purpose is to provide a forum for help. If you can't help, then AskMe clearly suggests that you shut up (in nicer words). That goes double if all you have that's "related" is a harshly judgmental response that attacks the morality of the question itself.
posted by mediareport at 7:48 AM on September 9, 2005


Fugu, sliced with care, is splendid.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:52 AM on September 9, 2005


The octopus, the stingray...

A shrimp dinner is a very expensive dinner.
posted by loquacious at 8:05 AM on September 9, 2005


Sorry for not responding sooner. I just woke up.

stavrosthewonderchicken: You're right. The word 'ethics' was a poor choice. The linked text came from jessamyn, not myself. Personally, I didn't want to post here. I wanted to voice my opinion on the original subject over in the AskMe thread, but jessamyn indicated that my opinion was more appropriate here in the grey.

odinsdream: I agree this is not Metafilter related. See above. I don't think I'm being childish in wanting to provide my students with a classroom relatively free of distractions. I have had some students bring laptops to type notes. They are not distracting. The ones who IM, play Quake, read webpages that make them laugh out loud cause distractions.

loquacious: You're right that teachers do not have a monopoly on the diffusion of knowledge. I like to encourage discussion of items students have read outside class related to the subject. And I know the value of multitasking. I also recognize the shorter attention span of students today. I don't think the two are unrelated. IMO, 50 minutes is not too long to stay focused on one thing, namely my class, which is not entirely a lecture by me.

digitalis: While I won't go so far as to suggest damaging someone's equpment, I'm glad to see I'm not completely alone on this side of things.


Look, everyone, there are valid answers to the question which are not technical in nature. Example: "Change section to one that doesn't require attendance so that you can stay at home and surf."

The question was about caching webpages specifically to read in class. People trying to answer should be allowed to address all parts of the question. Obviously, at least three people tried doing so.
posted by achmorrison at 8:26 AM on September 9, 2005


Man, do I feel old. There was only ever one laptop in any of my lectures, and it was either the TA or the official notetaker. The only "distractions" I ever had were doodling in my notes or watching the ASL interpreter and trying to glean some sign language. Anyone playing a game on a laptop would have drawn so many glances and snickers as to come to the attention of the prof and be booted from the class. I had one teacher who wouldn't even let us wear hats in his class. And most of my classes were under 50 students. Who are all you computing-in-class folks and what are you studying? I studied english, life sciences, history, and anthropology. I generally enjoyed my lectures and found them "required reading" at essay and test time. Are other subjects just so insanely boring and wrongly set up that the lectures are not only petrifyingly insipid but irrelevant to learning?
posted by scarabic at 8:33 AM on September 9, 2005


I would say that 90% of the lectures I attended in college were completely redundant if you read the book. However, you had to show up because assignments were given and attendence was taken (in some of them.) Why the fuck shouldn't I read the paper/blogs? It's my time and my money. Your job is to teach. If you aren't contributing to my education, why should I pay attention to you?
posted by callmejay at 8:34 AM on September 9, 2005


I agree with both opinions about deletion: The comments were neither helpful nor constructive in the context of the question; but it was dumb to delete them, if only because it's inconsistent. That sort of chatter happens in every AskMe thread. When I asked about applying to lots of grad schools, roughly half the respondents ignored my question and tried to explain why they thought I should limit myself. I didn't notice any admins deleting replies, there.
posted by cribcage at 8:49 AM on September 9, 2005


ASL interpreter? Now that would be distracting.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:50 AM on September 9, 2005


I have been a professional teacher for almost 20 years. I have taught children, college-aged people and older adults. I currently teach computer classes (Photoshop, etc.), but I've taught plenty of loftier subjects (dramatic literature, writing, etc.).

When I teach, I offer a SERVICE. People PAY for that service and they are free to do whatever they want with the service they've paid for. If they want to come to one of my Photoshop classes and then spend the whole time surfing the web, they have the right to do so. I am not paying THEM. THEY are paying ME. If I were paying them, I could demand that they perform the service of hanging-on-my-every-word. But I'm not paying them.

I also don't judge them. I don't think, "Hey, that guy's an asshole because he's more interested in surfing the web than he is in listening to me talk about layer masks." Maybe the web IS more interesting than I am. And maybe he IS listening to me. Maybe his learning style involves multitasking.

Mine does. If I have to sit an listen to a lecture without any distractions, I zone out. I have tried for DECADES not to do this, and if there's a way, I haven't discovered it. But if I can do something else with my hands and eyes -- doodle, surf the web, etc. -- I CAN pay attention. In high school (pre web), I doodled. Some of my teachers didn't care. I did well in those classes. Some of my teachers stopped me from doodling. My grades suffered.

One might suggest that I should have learned to pay attention without doodling. Maybe. But those teachers who stopped me from doodling didn't help me do that. They just made me stop doodling. And I couldn't pay attention. As a teacher, I don't want to do that to my students. I want them to be HAPPY in my classes. I want them to be interested in SOMETHING -- even if it's not me. If their mind is active and interested, there is a better chance they will learn than if they are bored and disgruntled.

I DO agree that one student shouldn't disrupt other students. But one needs to strike a balance of fairness here. Should female students be forbidden to wear miniskirts to class because some of the men might be distracted by them? Should students be forbidden to bring garishly-colored notebooks to class?

I, for one, am REALLY easily distracted, almost to a pathological level. If a person next to me is abscent-mindedly swinging their foot around, I have trouble paying attention. If someone next to me is chewing gum, I have trouble paying attention. Once, I couldn't pay attention because the person next to me was wearing a bright yellow jacket.

This is regrettable, but it's MY problem. If someone is playing a loud videogame in class, that's THEIR problem. If someone is quietly reading something on their screen and it distracts me, that's MY problem.

Most teachers that I've talked to who get offended by this sort of thing don't really care about the students. They care about their own egos. They are offended that someone would rather play tetris than listen to them talk about Milton.

We say "teaching is the noblest profession," and that may be true. I am very proud to be a teacher. I would also be proud if I was a doctor. Doctors also provide a service. But if a doctor tells me that I need a triple-bypass, I am free to decline. The SERVICE he provided (which I paid him for) was to offer an expert opinion. I may be foolish to disregard his opinion, but I am not rude to do so.

Teachers should try to be as noble as their profession.
posted by grumblebee at 8:57 AM on September 9, 2005


Well said grumblebee, thank you for respecting your students.
posted by odinsdream at 10:05 AM on September 9, 2005


I used to drink whisky and coke in my Dostoevsky class. My prof just told me to bring him one.

I would like to discuss the ethics of using coke as a mix.
posted by timeistight at 10:36 AM on September 9, 2005


OK, late to the party, everyone, sorry. I was - you guessed it - in class. I want to respond to glueschk's point specifically - that I should pay rapt attention in class not because it bothers the teacher, but because he knows what's best for me. I respectfully dissent.

As full disclosure, I am 27 and a third-year law student. There are many reasons why this should distinguish me from the freshman sitting through a calculus or econ class, so perhaps I do not appreciate glueschk's frustration as a professor at the undergraduate level as much as I should. I graduated college in 1999 and the number of people who actually had laptops in proportion to the number of students in the class was so small that they had good reason to be worried about the distraction caused by the sound of typing. That worry no longer applies, as evidenced by the 75% of people in law school who use computers to take notes in class. I try to be no more distracting to other students or the professor than anyone else in the room with a laptop. This in part drove the stipulation in my AskMe question that the news and blog feed appear in a single flat file for easy, discreet reading in class.

Also, for what it's worth, I have no animosity or resentment toward people who teach undergraduate college students. On the contrary, I have a lot of respect for college teachers and especially the bullshit they put up with. One particularly awesome adjunct university professor became my wife last week.

What's that (paradoxical) principle that states people learn and retain more with distractions?

Loquacious hit it on the head. I learn better this way. I pick up what's important - and contrary to the "word of god" mentality that some have, not everything spoken in class is important. The ability to absorb the gestalt while knowing which specific pieces of information to retain is the key to being a good lawyer. The traditional classroom format, where a teacher (or a teacher and her students) talk on the same subject for anywhere between 90 minutes and three hours is antithetical to the skills of the profession. There's a reason why, even in the Supreme Court, each lawyer gets no more than 30 minutes to persuade the justices of his or her position. Many of the justices think even this is too much. Woe to the person who dared ask the late Chief Justice Rehnquist for an additional thirty seconds to finish his point.

So, yes, the distraction helps me learn. One look at my law school transcript will instantly make clear which classes were held in rooms without Internet access. Moreover, this isn't all surfing or video games. My distractions include trips to Westlaw to look at full versions of cases that have been sloppily edited by the casebook authors; and trips to Google to verify a factual piece of information the professor is discussing. I become more involved when I break through the isolationist nature of the classroom. Frankly, I think this threatens a lot of people in the profession. But I'm not trying to replace you with a robot. I'm trying to engage myself in a way that you can't make possible on your own. You should feel emboldened by this, not belittled.

But telling me that I'm not learning the right way, or somehow am cheating myself by not taking down every word you say, is simply wrong and evidences the kind of arrogance that further reinforces the damaging and artificial formalistic wall of separation between student and teacher.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:06 AM on September 9, 2005


One particularly awesome adjunct university professor became my wife last week.

Congrats!

...the kind of arrogance that further reinforces the damaging and artificial formalistic wall of separation between student and teacher...

Amen. There are good teachers/classes, and there are not-so-good. You can't attend college and not learn this. When Prof. Sarkozy was talking about non-deterministic finite automatons -- not exactly thrilling conversation material -- I was nonetheless rapt and inquisitive because he really knew his shit and really taught it.

When, on the other hand, I was required by the curriculum to take a Ethics of Computing class taught by a professor who didn't want to be there for a group of students who didn't have a choice, we mostly did whatever we could to get through the goddam lectures.

Stats I and II? Attendence mandatory. Pop quizzes every other lecture. The lectures consisted of the prof reading verbatim from overhead-slide transfers of selected portions of the class text, which was an on-campus-printed-and-bound LaTeX document that the prof himself wrote, badly. Pop quizzes were a last ditch effort to get people to show up to a valueless lecture.

A student at an American school, at least, who is pursuing a specific path of study, will generally not have the flexibility to have great professors for every class they take. They certainly have the right to be flexible in how the deal with the second-rate requirements-satisfying snorefests.
posted by cortex at 2:16 PM on September 9, 2005


One particularly awesome adjunct university professor became my wife last week.

Congrats!


I was going to congratulate him, but from his "became my wife" phrasing, I wasn't sure whether they had gotten married on purpose or they had just woken up and found themselves married one day or I should be alerting the authorities to another invasion of the body snatchers.

Let's hope it's the first one.
posted by anapestic at 2:23 PM on September 9, 2005


And even in that first case, we're left to wonder: was the perception of awesomeness cause or consequence of the weddedness?

And this all discounts the possibility that said adjunct prof had been, previous to last week, his husband, and has only recently been toggled by some Hedwiggian circumstance.

And for this I spent all that money on schooling?

posted by cortex at 3:01 PM on September 9, 2005


At the ceremony, she was all like, "btw, i'm awesome."

and I was like, "woot."
posted by Saucy Intruder at 3:16 PM on September 9, 2005 [1 favorite]


When I had a laptop, I regularly took it to classes and took notes, wrote emails, surfed the net, chatted on AIM, etc. (although I never really played video games.) I did this without every hearing a fellow student or a professor complain for any reason.

I say this as someone who is both figdety and loud by nature, and who has been asked many time to stop doing other things in class because someone found them annoying.

I often use my laptop to augment lecture, actually; the most recent example was during a journalistic ethics class, I often surfed the internet looking for counterexamples that I could bring up during the discussion.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 5:42 PM on September 9, 2005


I did a similar thing in my intro-level psych class last year -- my notes are peppered with links to diagrams, pictures, and websites with additional information.
posted by danb at 6:42 PM on September 9, 2005


achmorrison, you have inadvertently argued for updating your class management procedures. Have you considered involving the students in their learning experience? I know that sounds snarky, but it's a sincere question. If you involve the students, and create a situation where social pressure compels them to absorb what you're teaching, there won't be any need to worry about what the students are reading.

The blah-blah-blah learning model whereby the professor, fountainhead of knowledge, babbles and burbles for an hour before straight rows of listening students is not only ineffective and outmoded, it's disrespectful and even cruel.

I urge you to consider updating your pedagogy, that is your approach to teaching, so that your students don't feel talked at. For example, seat the students in a half-circle, or in small groups; break up every 15 minutes of lecturing with an exercise that gets the students interacting with each other, and accountable for remembering and using what you've just been talking about. I could go on and on, but the web is rich with alternative models.

Show some respect for the attention of your students, and they'll respect your message more. From one teacher to another, I wish you good luck.
posted by squirrel at 3:55 PM on September 11, 2005


squirrel : "The blah-blah-blah learning model whereby the professor, fountainhead of knowledge, babbles and burbles for an hour before straight rows of listening students is not only ineffective and outmoded, it's disrespectful and even cruel.

I urge you to consider updating your pedagogy, that is your approach to teaching, so that your students don't feel talked at. For example, seat the students in a half-circle, or in small groups; break up every 15 minutes of lecturing with an exercise that gets the students interacting with each other, and accountable for remembering and using what you've just been talking about. I could go on and on, but the web is rich with alternative models.

Show some respect for the attention of your students, and they'll respect your message more."


And, ironically, talking with some friends when we were in uni, one of the things we enjoyed about university classes is that there were no more of the tedious group assignments that slowed the class down. We were finally getting one hour classes where the teacher could spend the whole class teaching us stuff, instead of an hour made up of 15 minutes of new material, 15 minutes of discussion, 15 minutes of guessing at rationales and possibilities, and 15 minutes of other general time-wasting.

I think it's misleading to say the lecture model is ineffective (witness the fact that college students learn so much fucking more than high school students), and "outmoded, disrespectful, and cruel" sounds more like a personal judgement call. Respecting the attention of your students also includes things such as respecting that your students can pay attention, and not treating them like a bunch of ADD addled elementary school kids who need to be distracted every few minutes with playtime or shiny baubles.

Note: the above went a little overboard, but it was just to provide a counterweight. In reality, some folks can't handle lectures, some folks prefer them, and teaching style needs to be matched to the actual students, not recent pedagogical fashions or my own personal learning style.
posted by Bugbread at 8:30 PM on September 11, 2005


Bugbread, your're right about the personal judgement call. Different people learn better in different ways. I agree that poorly executed group-centered learning can be a drag and a waste of time. And of course there are lots of people who prefer a passive learning process over an active learning process, even when the latter is done well.

Personally, I've seen classrooms turned around by a shift from lecture only to group-centered lecture, but this isn't everyone's experience. Don't worry about the "overboard" aspect of your respnse: everything you wrote is true. I was overboard, myself, in my push to get achmorrison to step out of his own limitiations, which appear to be causing hyper-concern for what the students are thinking about. I want him to address the root cause of the distractedness: boredom.

Finally, on the issue of whether it's proper to expect people of any age to learn effectively while sitting wordlessly, motionlessly, for 90 minutes, there are a lot of studies on the matter. I trust you know how to use scholarship databases.
posted by squirrel at 2:28 PM on September 12, 2005


Well, when we move from 60 minutes to 90 minutes, I agree, sitting wordlessly and motionlessly the entire time is not conducive to learning, though that's why we generally had breaks in class.

I suspect other factors here are the topics of our hypothetical classes. My mental image is of a physics class, where, sad to say, the students just don't know enough to make discussion worthwhile. Other subjects may lend themselves far more to group-centered lecture.
posted by Bugbread at 7:27 PM on September 13, 2005


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