We are all only too well aware of the problem of student focus. The teacher turns her back for two seconds and at least one student is taking a peek at Facebook, or Youtube, or something else they shouldn’t be looking at.
The question – what do you do about it?
Apparently, you do not close down the laptop screen while the student is in mid-surf. You might get arrested, suspended and find yourself on the receiving end of a battering case. This is what happened to a lecturer in Valdosta State University in Georgia recently. I accidently slammed a laptop shut quite hard on my fingers (purely by accident of course, and now I cannot for the life of me remember why!) a number of years ago. Both laptop and fingers survived undamaged. I imagine it would take some severe force indeed to cause injury to either.
Student inattention and self-distraction is a problem that is not going away. Stories like the one in Georgia don’t help. They just add to the frustrations of the problem.
There is increasing evidence that our young folk are experiencing addiction problems with their technology devices. Headlines such as” Facebook generation suffer information withdrawal syndrome” and “Student ‘addiction’ to technology ‘similar to drug cravings” are frightening but need to considered and acted upon. Students are reported as “having withdrawal symptoms, overeating, feeling nervous, isolated and disconnected, they don’t know what to with themselves or their time” when they are deprived of their technology in the “Unplugged: living without the media” study currently underway. The action of the student, reaction of the lecturer, and subsequent reaction of student in Georgia doesn’t seem quite so strange now.
Plenty of suggestions are given of alternative courses of action. Examples suggested by commenters on the students’ behalf include: don’t be so rude in a classroom, don’t take the laptop to class, or don’t take yourself to class if you plan to play on your laptop right through it. This is all good advice but unlikely to be taken up by a student who simply cannot resist the temptation to sneak a peek at that Facebook.
For the lecture, advice seems to follow on practical terms e.g. “the student should be asked to desist, asked to leave the lecture theatre if they won’t desist – but if they refuse to do even this, then it wouldn’t be fair to the other students to disrupt the lecture further – so a formal verbal warning should be issued, and from then on, a formal disciplinary process should be commenced”. The commentator then goes on to say that very few universities are likely to have such a formal system in place. There is no mention either of what to do there and then when the student refuses to leave the room and refuses to un-facebook.
Another commenter laments the banning of internet connectivity in the classroom, suggesting that the lecturer integrate laptop usage into their lesson plans. The commenter goes to say that s/he has “established a back channel chat room in which students can discuss the class or anything else for that matter during the course discussion. This keeps them from going on Facebook and focuses them at least marginally on the business at hand”. Hmmmm, one wonders about the “marginally” and what the “anything else” is. Integration of the social tools so beloved of our students is not easily integrated into every facet of classroom teaching. While I like the idea of the back channel, it is difficult to see how it solves the problem.
What, then, is the solution?
Do we need yet another label to slap on students? No!
Do we want to ban technology from the classroom? No!
Do we simply ignore the student(s) who Facebook their way through class? No!
Do we bar the Facebooking student from ever sitting in class again until they mend their ways? No! (we might be kept waiting some time for them to return)
Do we have individual lesson plans for each student so they cannot claim to be bored or that the teacher is moving too slow / fast for them? No! (how many students do you have, on average, in your classes?)
It’s Sunday night, I’m back to watching the golf.