Friday, September 14, 2007

Pardon My Randomness

Students, beware of technology. Just because it is available, it doesn't excuse being boorish.

At the beginning of the summer, I was discussing the semester that had just ended with a fellow professor. He had a particular grievance about the behavior of students these days. One of them had missed the final exam. Completely failed to show up to take the final. So, the student called his office phone and left a voice message: "Hey professor, this is Blithe. I missed the final and need to take a make up exam tomorrow. Please call me with the time. My number is ............"

The professor was complaining that not only was the student so blasé in the assumption that he was automatically going to give a make up exam, but that the student had left the phone number at a speed supersonic jets would envy.

If you're the student in question and wondering why you never got a call back, let me inform you of what everyone else is thinking right now: You're an idiot.

"In my day," said the professor, "a student would never do such a thing." Even when La Professora went to college, which was some time after said professor went, students knew that such impolitic behavior would never be accepted. If you missed an exam, you went to the professor's office and begged for mercy.

Technology has been a blessing and a curse. Students now can use the internet to contact each other from across the globe to get caught up on the lectures they missed. Cellphones have saved lives as professors have had to call 911 for students who fall violently ill in class. Laptop computers have been used to make lectures a little more interesting with slides. Yet that same technology has been used in thoughtless ways.

A recent conversation with another professor in the department was on just that topic. He told of going to a class to observe the instructor and being amazed at what students were doing in class. As he sat in the back of the class, he could see what was on the screens of students' laptops. The wireless access, for which the university had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars supplied by student fees, was being used by three students to play World of Warcraft. During lecture. Why, the professor wanted to know, did the students bother to come to class.

My own recent experience has been with the use of cellphones and blackberries to catch up with one's 'homies' while in class. Tucking the device under the desk does not make it less noticeable; if anything, it makes it more conspicuous as you are forced to arch your neck to odd angles to be able to see what you are doing. At the same time, don't assume that I haven't figured out what is going on with the laptop -- if you're typing while your fellow students are engaging in some group activity, then there's a high probability email is being sent.

Do I care? Not really. You're in class and you're at least not disturbing the flow of lecture. However, when it comes time to pull your own weight in class activities, and your laptop or blackberry or whatever electronic device you have out is in use, you're not only irritating your fellow students, you're infuriating La Professora -- the one who grades your work -- and that's not wise.

I'll let you in on a little secret, if only to help you understand how the use of technology may harm you: If you want something from a professor, do not use email or the cellphone. Case in point: a student was calling around to see what classes she could get into by asking, over the phone, for add codes. I had a student in my office asking the same thing for the same classes. Even though it was the end of the second week of classes, I allowed the student in my office to add -- the student on the phone was told the courses were full. The reason is simple. I will not enroll someone who doesn't have the dedication to get into the office and ask in person. I want to see the person before giving them permission to add. I am not going to add someone who hasn't been to the class, hasn't seen the syllabus, and hasn't the commitment to his or her education to do more than phone a professor.

Then again, perhaps I should let those folks into the class. I'm sure the other students would appreciate having someone occupy the lower end of the grade curve.
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Mupetblast said...

Regarding students that bring laptops to class.

They occupy the right and left tail of the bell curve of student attention. On one end are those playing World of WarCraft and using their laptop as a means of "deep escape" (as opposed to a "soft escape", such as scribbling on paper). At the other end are those using their laptop to take flawless notes, complete with bullet points and bookmarks. From the vantage point of the teacher it can be hard to tell which one is which.

La Professora said...

True enough, but the solution then would be to eliminate the wireless access so that the WoW players would have to seek their gratification elsewhere.