2007 November 10 Saturday
Teachers Compete With Text Messaging For Attention

Columbia University journalism school professor Samuel Freedman, writing in the New York Times, reports that teachers increasingly find themselves competing with electronic gadgets for the attention of their students.

All the advances schools and colleges have made to supposedly enhance learning — supplying students with laptops, equipping computer labs, creating wireless networks — have instead enabled distraction. Perhaps attendance records should include a new category: present but otherwise engaged.

In the past three years alone, the percentage of college classrooms with wireless service has nearly doubled, to 60 percent from 31 percent, according to the Campus Computing Survey, an annual check by the Campus Computing Project of computer use at 600 colleges. Professor Bugeja’s online survey of several hundred Iowa State students found that a majority had used their cellphones, sent or read e-mail, and gone onto social-network sites during class time. A quarter of the respondents admitted they were taking Professor Bugeja’s survey while sitting in a different class.

Isn't this an argument for delivering lectures as recorded videos? If lecturers really are competing with Blackberry chats and web site reading in real time shouldn't lectures cease to get delivered in real time? Let students start and stop lecture playback during the slices of time when the students want to pay attention.

Scheduled lectures amount to an assertion of an absolute top level of priority at class times by lecturing teachers for the attention of students. Why make those times be the only times you can hear the material? I do not see this absolute rigidity of scheduling as serving a productive purpose.

Professor Michael Bugeja, who teaches journalism at Iowa State University, wants contemplative students. Um, good luck with that one.

“Education requires contemplation,” he continued. “It requires critical thinking. What we may be doing now is training a generation of air-traffic controllers rather than scholars. And I do know I’m going to lose.”

Seems to me that the new media formats are what Prof. Bugeja's students are going to end up writing for. They are immersing themselves in the new media while in class in spite of their professor. That seems like the professor's mistake. I can understand why the teachers object. The professors want to engage in exchanges with their students where their students react to what they've just been taught. Okay, how about doing this in a more modern fashion? How about moving those exchanges online and let those exchanges happen at more irregular times of the day? Create chat rooms for Blackberry exchanges about course topics.

Another option for schools: Create class rooms that block out most cellular signals. Don't want the students distracted? Remove their ability to communicate with anyone not in a classroom. Oh, and while you are at it: Build concert halls that block cellphone signals. Then we can sit in concerts without hearing the sound of cellphones ringing.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 November 10 02:20 PM  Education

m said at November 10, 2007 6:01 PM:

"Isn't this an argument for delivering lectures as recorded videos?"


How many teen and twenty somethings have the self discipline to watch those video lectures,not once but many times?
Why do something so boring and less likely to impress friends when you can play games,IM or text?

In a more serious culture with well engaged parents and teachers that stressed responsibilty and achievement,perhaps,but in this culture of hedonism and self gratification?

It will take a massive cultural change over a generation,just as the decadence of Georgian aristocrats and the degeneracy of the new industrial slums spawned the Victorians in response.

AND that was based on a new,fast growing,well educated and deeply Christian middle-class.

tommy said at November 11, 2007 10:07 AM:
How many teen and twenty somethings have the self discipline to watch those video lectures,not once but many times? Why do something so boring and less likely to impress friends when you can play games,IM or text?

At the high school level, I would agree. At the college level, I say allow recorded lectures.

Your Image Here said at November 11, 2007 10:18 AM:

Cell phone jamming tech has been around for years.
Trouble is it's banned by the FCC. Too bad, I'd like to go to a movie in a theater without having to hear someone's phone conversation...

Anon said at November 11, 2007 10:53 AM:

This isn't just a problem in schools. Meetings in the workplace have similar distractions. However, maybe it isn't really the problem it first appears, we've all known that workplace meetings can waste an enormous amount of time while a small portion of the attendees discuss issues that are irrelevant to the majority. The technology has ran ahead of ideas of what good manners are; It is still evolving. I'm not sure cranky old Luddite instructors should have the last word on how this should evolve.

With Wifi, you can legally and easily block it out since the signals are weak and the spectrum is unlicensed. Colleges and universities are among the first to adopt widespread use of ubiquitous wireless internet connectivity. Many novel applications for this stuff are springing up all over the place - mostly driven on our colleges.

The Wifi access points in a campus can be configured in a way to provide a "captive portal" so only instructor-approved material can be available. However with Wimax that is coming up over the next few years(essentially wireless DSL), this will be licensed spectrum, and you won't be able to block it. You'll have kids able to watch "youtube" during class.

Randall Parker said at November 11, 2007 11:14 AM:

Some kids are motivated. If those kids can maintain good grades by watching lectures in their own time then why make them sit in regular classes?

Currently there isn't even the option of a kid doing better by

College: In most cases the kids don't even have to show up for class as things stand now. I don't see that recorded lectures will lower their performance.

For many courses (e.g. basic calculus or organic chemistry) the students could be offered recordings of a dozen different professors delivering the same course. The materials in many cases are pretty standard stuff that doesn't change very fast.

purenoiz said at November 11, 2007 5:34 PM:

Honestly I like and dislike this idea for one reason.

When somebody else asks a question to either expand upon/ or better explain something I usually learn something.
The only time I dislike this is when one student hijacks the lecture to have the teacher just talk to them, something they should be doing after class in their office.

black sea said at November 12, 2007 6:46 PM:

"Isn't this an argument for delivering lectures as recorded videos?"

It's an argument for fewer young people attending universities.

Look, the kind of critical thinking and scholarship alluded to in this article are of interest to a only relatively few people. Most people are utterly uninterested in critical thinking unless money is directly involved, and their idea of scholarship is surfing the internet, followed by absolutely nothing in the way of analysis or exposition. It's effectively cognitive channel surfing, at best.

This may be the wave of the future, this may be the way we're all going to live in 10 or 20 or 50 years, but you sure as shit don't have to spend four years in a university learning how to do it.

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