Monday, November 19, 2007

Screened out

From Margaret Soltan comes a Globe and Mail article about professors who are banning laptops in the seminar hall. Once or twice, I've sat in the back of World Civ and looked around at the students on their laptops. As far as I could tell, a single lonely soul was taking notes on his laptop; others were checking email, reading blogs, downloading music- the kid next to me was watching Star Wars! So, I don't really see why professors allow laptops in the classroom.

I know, here I go bashing the Internet again. But I think it's realistic to say that the Internet is good for a number of things, and still acknowledge that it doesn't really add much to the classroom. And I think my position on the matter has evolved a bit- after all, I'm not arguing for the Amish lifestyle any more. Besides, the reason I get so cranky about the Net in the first place is that so many of its paladins go so far out in the other direction. One of the experts interviewed, who not surprisingly sells software to help Profs use the Internet in class, is quoted- Instead of banning laptops, professors should adapt because “banning is not going to work with this generation because that is how they learn,” she said.

This encapsulates two arguments that irritate me:
1. The argument that ''this generation'' has a unique and special relationship with the Internet that the rest of us cannot really understand. It's beautiful really. Come with me now, into the future...
2. The argument that, when you're surfing the Net, you're not really surfing the net- you're learning, making lifelong friends, engaging with the political process, painting your house, and doing a bunch of other things that maybe you are really doing, but probably not.

Look, there's probably nothing wrong with surfing the net on a regular basis. But there's something to be said for not letting that invade the other parts of your life. The article talks about students who freak out upon being told that they can't use their laptops for an hour and a half twice a week. There's talk about their ''lifelines'', and their ''right to bring laptops to class'', and how they were ''even a little panicked'' about turning off the computer, and you start thinking maybe it's not such a bad thing that Mean Professor Anti-Laptop is trying to make them engage with the world around them for an hour and a half.


Holly said...

For some reason, your argument here reminds me of the arguments against smoking in the workplace and other communal areas.

On the bright side, some day when someone gets cranial implants working, you at least won't have to see or hear the email, YouTube, and Star Wars screenings, during class. The students will simply appear to be staring at a point in space. And also, universities will be dissolved, because really, why bother sitting in a room together, anymore, when you can just download a good professor...?

Rufus said...

I'm actually surprised that nobody has seriously proposed lessons by text message.

About once a year someone will publish a study showing that most people can't read a newspaper article and tell you what it said, and instead of saying what most of us are thinking- namely, what the fuck?!- someone will argue, 'Well, maybe you farty old eggheads should stop trying to make them read your elitist 'books' and 'articles' all the time and get with the times! This is the Facebook and text message generation, man! Stop being such fascists!' Eventually, I assume I'll be replaced by a series of CGI historical movies on YouTube.

Actually, I have a friend who was hired to teach a World Civ class that the university mandated would be taught entirely with DVDs. His job was to come to class, turn on the DVD player, play the DVD, and tell people to be quiet periodically. So, he was basically an usher.

Holly said...

Does it pay well, to be an university usher?

One of the most depressing stories I have ever heard about education involved reservation Indian kids in New Mexico who were "taught" by "teachers" who would come in to the class room, tell them to shut the fuck up, put a decrepit video in the player, and then leave to get drunk during the film. If anyone was still in the classroom was still there when the teacher got back, they were chased out with some creative profanity. Students who had questions about the content of the information they'd just received could either discuss it with their friends, or ask the grandmother who was raising them.

Rufus said...

Well, that tops my most depressing story- I knew someone who was going to give a guest lecture at a university and when she sent the article that she would be lecturing on, so the students could read it ahead of time, they told her, 'Yeah, we don't really have the students read at this University...'

But, yes, I'd say drunken and abusive is worse than that.