Turning Off Internet In The Classroom Won't Make Lectures Any More Interesting

from the competing-for-attention dept

Just about two years ago, we wrote about some law professors who were threatening to ban computers in their classrooms because students just weren’t paying attention. While some apparently did so, perhaps it wasn’t enough, because as Slashdot points out, the University of Chicago’s law school has now decided to pull the plug on classroom internet connections entirely, as a dean was upset at how many students were surfing the web during class. However, as we noted two years ago, this seems to say a lot more about the lecture quality than the internet access in the classroom. Especially when it comes to a graduate school-level class, where students are supposedly actually interested in the subject, if the professor can’t keep the attention of the class, that should be a problem for the professor to deal with, rather than by cutting off internet access. Either way, with 3G wireless access (and eventually 4G) schools simply won’t have control over internet access anyway. So, if these schools are really concerned about it, rather than cutting off the connection they do have control over, perhaps they should focus on making the lecture experience more worthwhile.

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Comments on “Turning Off Internet In The Classroom Won't Make Lectures Any More Interesting”

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FireWolf says:

Internet during classes is really a no-brainer

As a current college student with an EEE PC, I truly love the internet during classes. It helps me focus on the lecture by pulling up resources with more information than just what the professor is lecturing on, further enhancing my knowledge and interest in the class. If I had to sit on my dead ass and listen solely to the lecture without extra curricular information, I’d die from boredom.

Charming Charlie says:

Re: Re: Internet during classes is really a no-brainer

Aaah, I really love the–Wow, however did we old fogies make it through school without a computer on our laps to entertain us the whole time? God help us all…–good- ol’-days posts. They always present us with two options: 1)human character has fundamentally changed in that last year, decade, century (whenever the good-ol’-days were), or
2)the environment has changed.

Since it’s obviously not 1, it must be 2. What has changed in this instance, perhaps, is that the college student of today has grown up in a much more multi-task oriented environment. Perhaps the single, sustained source of information that a lecture can represent is indeed, through no fault of character in the student, a challenge for sustained attention. If you really were enraptured by your lectures all through college, then good for you old fogey, the students of today need a solution, not whiffs of your imagined moral and discipline superiority.

Personally I don’t really think that computers are that much of a problem. I don’t really think when a student is checking his facebook he’s completely consumed by it and missing information from the lecture. I think he’s just filling a gap in his brain’s attention span that it has grown to accommodate from years of listening to music while studying on a computer with multiple applications and IM windows bouncing around on it. If his school bans his computer he’s just going to day dream. Same difference. But maybe halcyon old fogies didn’t do that either.

I routinely browse two forums simultaneous and I don’t think it affects the quality of my comprehension or contribution if I read some thread about game design before replying to the comments here. It’s a habit developed because of environmental constraints (slow internet which encouraged loading one page while reading another) that probably has low costs, but also some benefits.

Now, regarding the issue of the schools being for students because they’re paying consumers, I tend to agree with educators on the matter (even if they’re old fogies who might not understand being a student anymore). Students are not in the best position to judge what is worthwhile for them in their education. They’re free to vote with their dollars and continue the trend of exerting more and more pressure on administrators, but I think in the short term that will shoot them in the foot by decreasing the quality of their education.

Anonymous Coward says:

It IS the professor

I know that when an instructor is giving a lecture where he just stands behind a podium and just talks endlessly in Ben Stein-esque monotone without interacting with the students or trying to something to engage their attention i would usually surf the internet on the class PC or my laptop text message, or just sometimes drop to desk asleep from boredom, The instructors that engaged me and made the subject interesting had mine and everyone elses attention from start to finish. All these universities seem to forget that they are paid to serve the students not to just simply show up. Taking away the internet is a band aid on the bullet wound that is the lack of quality in america’s educational system.

Daniel (user link) says:

First-hand experience

I have some experience with this (I’m in lit class right now), and I believe that the internet helps a lot. It entertains me enough to keep me awake, but also helps me to look up additional information (which I do a lot).

Taking away computers would drastically reduce grades in my school, where our learning is supplemented well by the internet.

w00t for Wikipedia!

Buzz says:

case by case

My problem with professors and employers is that they seem indecisive on which they want: effort or results. You’d think results would make them happy, but signs of lacking effort seem to hurt their ego (even if the results are good). If a student can pass all exams and perform as expected, why are the lectures so necessary?

The only time mandatory attendance makes sense is when actual work is being done. For instance, my last English class featured many group assignments, so it made perfect sense to attend all classes (or fail otherwise).

Along these same lines, it really annoys me how people equate paying attention in class to productivity in the work place. They are completely different! For one thing, I am PAID to be productive in the work place (a stark contrast to PAYING to sit and listen to someone talk), and the work place is actually stimulating and demanding.

adidas4275 says:

Re: case by case

As a 24 year old high school teacher, who is a tech/pc enthusiast, i can say that teachers/profs should not care only about results. Life is not about results, it is about the process of getting to the results. People are to result oriented. Scoring well on tests is not what life is about. Life is about learning, you can get an A on a test w/o learning anything. Grad school expecially should not be about the grade/test but rather more about what the student learns. I teach in a tech oriented school and we monitor web access strictly, students are not able to control what they look at or what they are paying attention to. Short attention spans are not a new thing, but student need to learn how to pay attention.

It is not about a boring professor/teacher, its about personal responsibility. remember this is not coming from a 65 year old Ivory tower Law Professor, but rather a 24 year old teacher who graduated college 4 years ago.

I comes down to personal responsibility, and it is the responsibility of a student to learn, not check their facebook while in class.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: case by case

Life is about the process of getting to the results? I’ll be sure to tell that to my boss the next time he is saying that “we are all about results here”. Are you judged on how your kids learn, or the scores/results they get on the state mandated exam? Or tell that to the student trying to get a full ride to an ivy league school and is based largely on their test scores and their grades.

You can’t let students flit through elementary and high school with the misguided belief that results don’t matter because they will be rudely awakened when they apply to colleges.

You sound like one of those fuzzy math proponents that has wrecked a couple generations of students and put America way down on the list when it comes to our math scores.

FormerGrad says:

Not so sure

While I’m all for making lectures more interesting, unfortunately, not all topics or particular lectures are made to ‘stimulate’ and/or ‘excite’ the students. Welcome to the real world! I attended graduate school before laptops were even around and, I assure you, I did not ‘die’ from boredom. I gutted my way thru the classes (some more interesting than others) and studied my rear-end off. Students are not entitled to be entertained in the classroom. Higher education surely needs to compete for its student base, but they also have the right to control the quality of their classroom in ways that they see fit. Removing the internet is hardly ‘harming’ the student’s ability to learn. However, they may lose students because of it, but that’s their right.

FormerGrad says:

Re: Re: Not so sure

Really? When you say ‘rights’, what do you mean exactly? While banning the internet may seem extreme, there are many times when the type of material (especially graduate level) requires you to pay attention to the lecture. Once again, I’m all for each institution doing whatever it can to enhance the educational process. What bothers me is some people acting as if you can’t learn anything without having some form of entertainment to go along with it.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: Not so sure

I’m a current grad student, and I do not feel like I have to be entertained to learn. However, for me, the lectures which I have a better chance of remembering are the ones where I am somehow brought into the lecture. I don’t mean simply discussing the topic. While that helps, the ones that truly stick in my head are the ones where a professor challenges me in some way and gets me to start thinking about the topic in a critical manner.

As an example, when I was a junior undergraduate student, I had a class called “Computer and Society” which studied the impact of computers (and technology as a whole) on society, particularly the professional world. We were talking one day about how technology changed the way people were managed. Our professor gave us a situation to play out in our heads.

The situation was that we were the sole programmer on a project whose customer was a bank. The customer, after getting a demonstration was very happy with the work, and would be getting delivery of the code in the next week. Before delivery of the project, we were fired as the company no longer needed us. The question then posed was, “what would be your reaction in this situation?” Most of the class didn’t think much of it and just said they would look elsewhere. Our professor then told us about a guy in the same situation. What he did was introduced some bugs into the code after he left (they didn’t revoke his clearance). The code was spaghetti code and only he knew what to do, and had the only backup at home. He ransomed the code back to the company back for a big payout.

Our class spent the whole hour and a half talking about this one situation. Everyone participated, and whenever I bring up the story, my friends still remember the lesson. The point of this long post is that, students don’t need to be entertained to learn, they just need to be engaged in a way that’ll make them interested in the subject matter.

Augy says:

Re: Re: Not so sure

At state universities, most of the salary of profs come from state tax payers, and their ultimate bosses are the state legislators. Students only pay a small part of the cost of their college education through their tuition. And legislatures want the students to graduate as soon as possible, to reduce the cost to taxpayers.

Chris says:

Who cares?

What I don’t understand, is why they care? When I didn’t care much for a prof or their lectures… I just didn’t show up to class as often. And as long as you’re getting good grades, who gives a crap where you are physically or mentally during a lecture? (As long as typing isn’t too loud)

Another classic example of idiots making decisions without understanding the problem. Take away the internet access… they’ll start using it on their phones. The problem is square, boring profs who are most educated in that topic, but don’t have crap all for teaching skills (no ed degree required).

Danno says:

Here’s my tack as someone who’s recently come out of a college with WiFi in every lecture hall/classroom: It does suck your attention away.

Even if the class is interesting enough, it’s so easy to find something distracting or to chat with friends on the internet that people who actually would find their Professor’s lecture worthwhile will stop paying attention. I know that I did.

Eventually *I* got fed up with not remembering what the Professor was saying that I just stopped bringing my laptop to class. Sure I couldn’t look up a reference or look for extra material, but the Professor was usually going fast enough that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with their lesson if I was screwing around trying to figure something out on my own; so I started asking more questions and taking better notes (on paper) so I could figure out stuff online, after class.

I know this is a bit of a Luddite-like take on things, but I really felt more involved in class when I didn’t have the laptop there. I’m sure if I had a whole lot of self-discipline I could’ve had my laptop and eaten it too (to turn a phrase), but I don’t, so just not bringing the damn thing ended up working better.

I don’t really see what’s wrong with that. Connectivity doesn’t have to be a part of *everything* in modern life… just most things.

Luke (user link) says:

I wouldn't go so far as saying it hurts

Having net in the classroom can be both a boon and a burden.

Being able to grab the profs. notes during class so you can reference written material, check email (I get jumpy when I can’t check it every 5-10 minuets), make arrangements with group members (my calendar is web-based), or if the guy is going on about something that’s not directly related to me passing the upcoming test then I can do something else that I deem productive until it’s time to listen again.
On the other hand your nieghbors and probably the prof. only want you to be looking at the teacher.
I went to Rose-Hulman and every student is required to have the school approved laptop in order to register for Freshman classes (program enacted in 1995). So my views on laptops with network access in the class are a little colored.

Ric says:

I feel it wise to point out that there are some classes that don’t have computers open in them. Those are the classes with teachers worth a damn. If I wanted to read the book, i would just read the book. I don’t need it spoon fed at lecture as well. 90% of classes are taught off publisher’s powerpoint slides, which are strait out of the book. Those kids with the laptops are there for the pop quiz/attendance grade requirements the Professor instated to keep class attendance up.
Anyone complaining about student behavior should go sit in on some classes at the local university.

chris (profile) says:

put the lecture online...

as a podcast and use class time for group work, projects, discussions, Q&A, etc. you know, stuff that engages the student and teaches them something more than names and dates.

as any pencil and paper gamer will tell you, getting any number of people in the same room at the same time is a real feat of logistics that shouldn’t be wasted on one-way communication.

John says:

Kids want degrees not learning

Take it from a fellow student at a UC

Just because these are graduate level coourses, doesn’t mean the kids are anymore interested in the subject then other students.. they just want the degree.

Knowledge doesn’t matter… finishing the requirements DOES

I’ve verified this with students in a lot of different majors going to multiple universities.

The fact is.. you don’t have to learn MUCH to get a degree.. just get help from fellow students just enough to get a good grade…get thru your classes and get a degree.

Paying attention is unnecessary

So if requirements are more important then knowledge..why NOT surf the internet????

John says:

Lectures kill learning

As a student studying education as part of my minor, I can tell you that the educational system cannot expect all students to come to class with an intrinsic desire to learn. Class doesn’t have to be entertaining, but it should be fulfilling and a learning experience. There is no longer a need for lectures because so much information is online. If a teacher really wants to supplant information from a textbook, they should write a blog that accompanies the class. If I could find the same information from a textbook or wikipedia as I could find from a professor, that prof is doing a poor and redundant job. Instead, colleges need to do away with lecture halls and instead focus on smaller classrooms for all classes. The purpose of education is learning, not getting a degree. A degree is meant to reflect actual learning, which unfortunately does not happen as efficiently or often as it should at many American colleges.

Anonymous Coward says:

Attention in Class

In a graduate level course there shouldn’t be any effort from the instructor to hold the attention of the students.

At that level, the only purpose of an instructor is to relay information, and answer relevant questions. It’s up to the student to pay attention and comprehend, if they aren’t motivated enough on their own to do this they should fail.

Robyn says:

Stop Whining!!!

Seriously did some of you lose your ba-ba?

Yes, the internet is a tool and you could use it for looking up extra material. However most students DON’T limit it to this and the downfalls are the following:

– Some classes are actually boring, and you have to learn them anyways. It’s not superprofessor’s job to make every aspect of patent law interesting. Some of it’s not. Deal.

– You have someone with a PhD who has spent hours creating and refining the lecture being given. They have spent hours pouring over primary literature on the subject and digesting it so that it makes a coherent lecture. If you have a question or want more information, ASK THEM! Asking in-class may allow the prof to get to make the format more interactive. Wikipedia is not ALWAYS right, because the true masters of the subject are busy trying to talk to you and not dinking around editing wiki articles. Also, asking allows the professor to figure out how to improve the lectures so that it is clearer in future years. An education degree is no match for experience, and feedback helps!

– Asking the prof things allows you to have a discussion and learn how to answer questions yourself. Maybe starting a debate in class by asking the right questions makes Steve over there voice a very valid point that makes everyone go hmmm.

– Building rapport with the professor is what really gets you that recommendation letter, outside opportunities, and a little leeway if something happens and you need help or an extension on a paper or something. Or research opportunities, scholarships etc. I had a prof tell me he chose me (a freshman bio major) for a fully funded (with stipend, airfare to a remote location, a 4 br apt, food etc) summer research project because of all the applicants, mainly of which were seniors, I was the only one who asked any questions, dumb or smart.

– Okay, so you’re being good and just looking up information, but the kid in front is playing WoW and Susie behind him keeps getting distracted by all the moving lights.

– Yes, you still get good grades. Whoopee. You and the rest of the class have set the curve lower. The professor couldn’t get past the boring stuff to get to that lecture they really wanted to do where it gets interesting.

So in short- you can look at it like your tuition doll ars are only good for crazy fast internet and that little paper at the end with that sophmoric why-do-we-have-to-learn-this attitude and connections OR you can look at it where you’re paying people with knowledge to school you. Maybe your heavily-accented boring prof did their graduate work with the freaking master of the field and if if he likes you he’ll share that connection and get you the exposure to lead to that fantastic job.

Maybe if you had taken the advantages you paid for you’d be writing for slashdot, cnet, G4 or CNN instead of whining on techdirt. 😛

Aneel says:


My high school teacher used to say that if you’re doodling during class, that’s good cause you’re probably paying attention. I wasn’t much of an artist, but I tried it and it worked. I actually paid more attention while I was drawing in class. I think this is kind of how computers work in a college environment. Some students may not understand what the hell the professor is talking about and may just use the internet to look up or get more information about what is being discussed. Besides no one is forcing you to be in college. If you pay for it, then it should be up to you to pay attention.

Brian says:

Typical anti-authoritarian slant

“The professor is in charge, so it’s his duty to entertain his students.”

Wrong. Not everything is entertaining. Lots of subjects are grinding hard work without a lot of “zazz.” Lots of students have short attention spans, regard certain classes as “boring” or curriculum-requirement stuff they aren’t interested in.

You’re amazingly quick to place the blame, here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Kids just don't care...

I’m a 3rd year university student, majoring in IT. Our classes/lectures are small (under 30 people), and the profs interact with us a lot. The subjects are quite interesting for most of us. But even then, more than half the class surfs Facebook and YouTube during the lectures, instead of paying attention to the prof. Needless to say, they haven’t learnt much, and cutting their access to the net would have helped them no doubt.

There have been boring profs for as long as there have been universities, I’m sure. Having to put up with that boredom is nothing new to students; it’s just a new challenge that you have to overcome, and not just give up and run off to have fun on the net instead.

sirjoebob (user link) says:

Lectures, not the internet is the problem

Traditional lecture-based classed are growing further apart from the educational needs of a modern student. The fact is that we do have the internet available and we do have the means to make classes more meaningful than just cramming a bunch of facts. I think every educational field could benifit from further computer integration. The issue to me seems that classes are not engaging. If the teachers were using modern technologies to re-emphasize the content, people would likely pay better attention.

Another thing that these educational leaders need to grasp is that today’s college student grew up with the idea of multi-tasking. We sat in front of a TV to do our homework and one single mode of input seems deficient to us at this point. I for one am not satisfied to just listen to a lecture. Just because I keep hitting the stumble upon button does not mean I am not paying attention to the lecture- just paying attention to the lecture AND using stumble upon.

sirjoebob (user link) says:

Lectures, not the internet is the problem

Traditional lecture-based classed are growing further apart from the educational needs of a modern student. The fact is that we do have the internet available and we do have the means to make classes more meaningful than just cramming a bunch of facts. I think every educational field could benifit from further computer integration. The issue to me seems that classes are not engaging. If the teachers were using modern technologies to re-emphasize the content, people would likely pay better attention.

Another thing that these educational leaders need to grasp is that today’s college student grew up with the idea of multi-tasking. We sat in front of a TV to do our homework and one single mode of input seems deficient to us at this point. I for one am not satisfied to just listen to a lecture. Just because I keep hitting the stumble upon button does not mean I am not paying attention to the lecture- just paying attention to the lecture AND using stumble upon.

Concerned says:

I think this whole discussion is pointless. The classroom setting requires two kinds of responsibility: responsibility on the part of the instructor to teach the material, and to do it in a way that the students are actually interested in the material and will learn it, and then there’s the responsibility of the students to set aside distractions and learn the material they are supposed to in order to receive their degree. Both sides fail at some point or another.

Now, if the instructors or the school see the need to cut off internet access in order to maintain order in the classroom, that’s completely up to them. While the students may actually pay for the internet service somewhere in their tuition, the school still owns the network, and they can decide exactly how and when the students can access it, and what content be accessed by it. If internet content is not required for the class, they have every right to disable it during class. It doesn’t matter what the advantages or disadvantages are, it’s still their right, because they own the network.

That being said, the internet can indeed be a valuable learning tool, if used properly. If the schools were to embrace the concept, they could potentially enhance the learning experience to the point of getting students more interested in the topics at hand. But ultimately, it’s not necessary, and instructors have plenty of other methods at their disposal for keeping things lively. Hands-on activities are always better than dull lectures, I can tell you that for sure.

Additionally, if you cut off internet access, you can be sure that the goof-offs will find something else to play with and ignore the class. That goes right back to responsibility on the student’s part. If they are goofing off and don’t pass, that’s their fault. And if they are disrupting the class by doing so, the instructor has the right to remove them from the premises for the benefit of the other students who are trying to learn. That in turn goes back to the responsibility of the instructor to maintain a positive learning atmosphere. Too many people these days expect technology to solve all their management problems, and it simply isn’t the answer. Technology is a tool, not a law enforcement agency.

The big picture here is basically that more and more people, especially young adults, are being taught by society that they don’t have to take responsibility for their own actions. Too many kids see college as a time to just go wild and party and do whatever they feel like, only to find out later that they would have been better off taking a little responsibility for themselves. Too many good colleges and universities have become nothing more than party houses, and it sickens me to think of what is going on out there these days.

Oh, and if you think I’m an old fogey venting on how things used to be, think again. I just turned 25 today. I graduated with a 2-year AAS degree and 4.0 GPA from a state technical college, and I’m working a steady full-time job doing what I enjoy doing, which I have held for 3 years now. I have never had an alcoholic beverage or smoked any tobacco, a fact which I’m proud of, because I believe that stuff can mess with your head, and probably plays a large part in the “dumbing down” of our society. I believe in taking responsibility for my own well being, and am doing quite well for myself at the moment because of it. And that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to get out and have fun with family and friends either. I just prefer clean fun, as opposed to wild parties and such that lead to things many people later regret. Anyway, I’m done ranting now. Kudos to you if you’re still this comment. I’m glad you took the time to hear my opinion.

Max Powers (user link) says:

Don't Blame the Professors!

Besides being discourteous, students are being distracted by using the internet during lectures. If you can’t pay attention to a professor for an hour you have many more problems to worry about for your future.

Would you do the same thing at a group meeting at work just because you thought the manager was boring?

Errant Garnish (profile) says:

Re: Don't Blame the Professors!

Good point!

My response to the group meeting question: the phenomenon is not limited to the classroom. I work full time in a corporate environment while taking courses in a part time master’s degree program. I’ve seen plenty of both good and bad use of laptops in the classroom. And I’ve seen plenty of good and bad use of blackberries and other devices in the corporate meeting room.

I have been in classes where a professor’s question to the class is met with silent response, largely due to mass immersion in reading emails, carrying on IM sessions, checking portfolios, or even watching basketball playoffs.

The point here is not whether professors can deal with students not paying attention; the real issue is that students short change each other by not participating in a community of engaged learners. If students cannot adopt norms on their own that promote learning in class, then maybe the University needs to enforce them by fiat.

That said, turning off Internet access is extreme. It overlooks the real problem (behavior) in targeting the false problem (technology).

Italian Revolutionary says:

Turning Off Internet In The Classroom

Hey…It’s a social-moral issue: as authority figures lose status and people in general have no clue how to behave (“‘What should I wear when I meet the Pope?’ teens want to know.”), there are bound to be issues that break along generational boundaries. So,Nu?

I have 30 years of elementary school experience and the primary issues have always been:

1)determine what the children will learn
2)determine how that will happen
3)plan for the success of all students
4)involve the greatest number of learning styles possible
5)be flexible
6)and if someone is f**king off, check to see whether they’re learning

My experience is that upper level educators 7-16 can do 1 and 2 exceedingly well and the rest not at all. Consequently most courses suck. That said, a computer in a fourth grade would have fifteen kids around it in a heartbeat.


School Hater says:

Boring classes

I don’t know about the average person in college, but I mild A.D.D. that makes it VERY hard to concentrate in boring classes with out drugs. Most of the time, taking my drugs helped me concentrate and have fewer ‘brain farts’ that left me lost for 1-2 minutes randomly during class, but some classes where just SO boring that taking the drugs made it worse because I’d find something else to concentrate on and lose track of time.

In general though, I hate how tests/quizes are made. From kindergarden to 8th grade i was a C/D student and sucked at math. But once less emphesis was put on english and basic math (memorization and speed drills), I went up to a A-/B+ because I did well in Algebra/Science.

Turns out I can’t memorize raw facts worth crap, but I can understand and apply complex ideas/concepts. I failed 5 different history classes in college before I finally passed a retake with a C-. I never missed more than 3 history classes in a given semester and spent about 4-8 hours/week studying. Then there’s my major. I almost never studied for any of my classes ~15-30 minutes/week and I got almost all A/Bs.

In a nut shell, my whole life I was told that I would never be anything because my grades where so bad and that I needed to try harder. Now I’m a DB programmer for a company that supplies products and services for over 73,000 schools in North America. TY education system for all positive feed back of my potential

Cowboy says:

It should be up to the student whether or not they bring a wireless device to class. To all the professors getting angry, at least your students are coming to class! If you don’t give us actual information that is educational or useful, you’re wasting my time as well as your own.

It’s honestly a double standard. Professors want us to attend lecture, take notes, read the book, read supplementary materials, etc., and become experts in everything they’re saying. Then, 4 times a semester they want it regurgitated verbatim. If you miss something, well too bad. Some professors complain that we lack depth in our thinking, but they want us to repeat word for word what they’ve said. They punish us if we don’t go to class, but don’t give us anything educationally when we do go to class.

Then there are the actual teachers. The professors who teach well and get the subject across in a straightforward manner. Notice I didn’t say entertaining. No one said it had to be entertaining, but don’t waste my time. I can read your slides, I can read my book. Either add something to it, let me go, or let me check my e-mail.

Robyn says:

But I'm Multitasking!

No you’re not, you’re distracted. I grew up with all the multitasking skills of doing homework with TV, studying with music, and even Internet in class. I can chat with 14 people at the same time and still reply to email and listen to music and breathe at the same time. It’s not really that much of a skill.

There is a virtue in being able to focus, a quality of engaging your whole brain in comprehending something that you would ordinarily consider “too difficult”. Even before computers study advice always included: Find yourself a quiet, well-lit, comfortable area free of distractions. Eat well, sleep well, and get regular exercise. It was never (read this book on treadmill, eat while doing math and do your homework with the radio on or on the bus or while looking through catelogs or while reading the newspaper.

Multitasking does not mean you lose the ability to prioritize or focus. Multitasking does not mean surrounded by distractions.

Think of it like this, with a fun example. Say instead of sitting in a “boring” lecture, you’re at a movie. What if someone sitting in front of you was dragged there by their boyfriend and pulled out a laptop. How about if the person next to you pulled out a book with a booklight. What if the person waay in the back’s phone rings two times? Why don’t you want to surf the net while you’re there? Maybe you could be looking up behind the scenes info on the actors, plot? Maybe it’s a sequel and you want to look up what happened to character X at the end of the last one because you can’t remember? Certainly remembering those things would increase your enjoyment of the movie, right? Getting all the information?

Oh, is THAT rude to other paying people around you? IS the movie better when you can focus on it and be absorbed into the cinematic experience? Pictures look clearer when smaller, why is the big screen so much better? You don’t even want to be distracted by the black around it?

What if you’re giving a presentation to the class about some work you’ve done, and the teacher doesn’t pay attention? Would you like them to grade your papers while watching TV? Then give you a lower grade because it was boring? Maybe they don’t WANT to bother working harder on lectures to kids who just sit thereon youtube? They do have papers to write, projects to do, and other professional development aspects to their job that you never see. Maybe those are more fun?

Would you like to try to hold the attention of small children when there’s a puppy in the room?

I’m 25, have had computers since I was 9, and had a laptop all through college and part of high school.

I used to be a horrible student. Always multitasking. Did my homework while watching TV, surfing the net, eating, on the bus, while talking to friends on the phone, etc. I got A’s because I was smart and managed. I doodled in class, daydreamed, read, and otherwise was allowed to do whatever because I got A’s.

I did well in college too. Then I had a bunch of exams on one day and I panicked. Essay tests! I locked myself in a study room at my dorm and worked on refining my notes, studying, practicing explaining. All stuff I hadn’t understood that well in class. I focused, and I found I not only finished studying in half the time I thought I would need, I understood it better, was more confident, and had interesting questions to ask the professors. I did ask, and became a favorite student of many of them, who volunteered recommendation letters, introductions, and general opportunities. I decided to continue that focus and began to not only like my classes, I loved them. I had a teacher apologize TO ME that the class was boring because he couldn’t get the other students to engage and get to the really interesting stuff. I had him previously for another class and was sorely disappointed things went that way, as he was awesome. I found I changed from a reluctant, quiet A student who managed, to an engaging A student who proceeded to top every curve and often become exempt from finals, provided opportunites, win extra scholarships and find a career path that really engages me.

Yes, I was good at multitasking, but when I took moments to use my whole intellect to focus on something, I was exceptional. When you focus, your brain just starts to absorb and enjoy. No, not everyone is like that, but just as not everyone is going to like the movie, nobody’s going to like it if there’s distractions abounding. If a movie’s good and your phone vibes, do you read the message or see who’s calling? No, you mash buttons to shut it up and look afterwards. If you’re really into a subject, the same thing happens. And your professor is guiding you into that subject material and giving you that opportunity so the least you can do is sit and listen for an hour or so to find out.

Multitasking reduces passion. A winetaster closes his eyes, you don’t text during sex, you turn down the lights during a movie, and you don’t play video games while watching youtube.

Multitasking is to make you MORE productive than otherwise. Your computer multitasks so that you can check email while writing a paper without saving, closing, opening, closing, opening, continuing. You can focus on two or more things that require less attention at the same time. But your computer runs the newest games best when you don’t leave a movie playing or 100 windows open or the like.

So do you.

Anonymous Coward says:

ahh, wait until you young whippersnappers get into the real world, i.e. the workplace. If you think your professors and lectures are boring now, wait until you have to sit through a mandatory two hour lecture on ethics, no laptops allowed. Or an eight hour a day, week long course that will get you certification to allow you to do your job.

Boring lectures train you for the real world, except in the real world it’s much much worse, especially when your boss pulls you into a four hour long meeting on whatever worthless biz-speak idea is floating around these days. And if you are caught mucking around on the internet during the meeting, you WILL be shown the door.

Anonymous Coward says:

The education system needs to change, the old way of forcing information down our throats so we can regurgitate it during a quiz or exam are useless. Information is so readily available now that no one needs to have everything memorized. Make us think, make us understand something. The american revolution was in 1776 and we beat the british, ok but why was there a revolution? what caused it? You can look up any date or fact anytime with the internet but how about why these things happen? Give students the critical thinking skills to understand the world around them. If you force them to actually use their minds and think they might pay less attention to the flashy lights of the monitor infront of them and pay attention to the professor.

John says:

The "real world"?

First of all, I feel sorry for any of you who think that boring lectures prepare you for the real world. What does that say for your life? I’m glad you have learned how to assimilate, but as for me, I actually want to make a difference instead of being some cog in a company. If you think that people my age are ready to be complacent members of a workforce, then you all are sorely mistaken. My generation has been given everything it ever wanted (not that this is good). We don’t care about seniority, we don’t care about fitting in, and we don’t care about the perfect lifestyle. I don’t care how many phds a teacher has, they don’t make someone a good teacher. The cynic in me wants to say that our crappy educational system is good because it prepares people for their inevitably crappy lives. The idealist in me says f that.

Some people want to say that some material is just boring. Well, why would anyone bother to teach something that was not interesting. I’ve had classes on interesting subjects where I couldn’t even stay awake in class, and I’ve had classes on “boring” subjects where I get excited to go to class. Profs who think that what they have to say is important just because they are profs are severely mistaken.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The "real world"?

don’t feel sorry for us. we’ve just lived long enough to see how the world really works.

Everyone that is young thinks they will change the world. Remember, the boomers were at woodstock, getting high, experiencing free love, and dreaming of the day when they were in power and make the world a wonderfully peaceful place and buy the world a damn coke.

Cut to today. All those boomers are now in power and nothing has changed. Not one thing. In fact, they are probably a little bit worse than back in the 60’s (for America anyways).

Every new generation thinks they will grow up and change the world (except gen x; we were pretty much bitter and cynical from the get go). So don’t worry about us old dudes, dream your dreams, for one day, you too will graduate college and your eyes will be opened. And the only reason you don’t care about seniority is because it doesn’t benefit you. Come back here in 20 years and let us know how you think.

Robyn says:

Re: The "real world"?

John you just cracked me up. You’re adorable.

“We don’t care about fitting in”

Seriously? If I don’t see one more moppy-headed IPod-wearing messenger bag-slinging facebook account walk past me as I sit here in a top10 University library, I will personally kiss your feet.

No youth cares about seniority. Someone who’s been in the biz 20 years SURELY has no clue compared to your “fresh ideas”.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have attended college before the internet, and after (currently enrolled). The most interesting comment I have heard about this in real life came from a professor who thinks this current assemblage of generations are the first to be able to handle this type of multitasking while in class. He has a PhD in Communications and I’m currently taking his Small Group communications class. This is also one of the only professors I have had in recent years who doesn’t use a computer or power point in class. He lectures, you take notes on the relevant stuff. People also use the internet, text, iphone etc in class, but he has come to the conclusion, through his own research, that most students are paying attention to his lecture while occasionally checking email and accepting friend requests.

I don’t think it’s a big deal either way, some classes I can’t reach the network, so I don’t. some I can, so I do. I determine what grades I get in the end.

Kevin says:


I’ve grown up in the internet generation to a point (I’m 18), but I wasn’t introduced to the internet until I reached high school. I’m graduating soon, one of the top ten students in my class, and although I type about twice as fast as I handwrite (60wpm), I often choose to write papers by hand first. After, I retype them. My AP lit class features 45 minute timed writings, and I doubt I could get through those texting with my friends or if I had a laptop in class.

However, I also engage in a healthy amount of multi-tasking like everyone else. I run several windows at once and read comics while attempting to be productive and listening to music. It gives me the ability to detune most of my senses and focus when I need to. When I row, I put music on. Truth be told, I hear the first ten to twenty seconds of each song and completely tune it out – I have more important things to focus on at the moment.

Working in a theatre, both skills come in handy. Sometimes I need to be able to focus explicitly on one task at a time, but other times I need to be able to be aware of every thing going on around me as my safety could be threatened by falling heavy objects.

Everything in moderation.

Best teachers are students says:

Best student are teachers

Saying remove internet to keep students attention is like saying taking guns from people will reduce crime. The internet is an information highway… A tool that can be used to highten the learning experience or to reduce it. Ether way the student must deside how to use the tool as well as the professor to deside who to implament… Wonder why internet classes have high passing rates??? Try taking one.

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