Be considerate

Overusing technology in the classroom isn’t only hurting you.

by Bronwyn Miller


Last week during one of my classes, the person in front of me spent the entire period using Adobe Photoshop to design an event invitation. Attempting to view the professor and her PowerPoint rendered it impossible to completely block his activity from my vision, and on more than one occasion I found myself getting caught up in what he was doing. As he tested out multiple positions for one of the items in the image, I found myself inadvertently forming an opinion on where it should go. I then realized I had gone 10 minutes without taking notes.

My view on his decision to spend the whole class period without once looking up from Photoshop was akin to how I feel when I watch someone sitting next to me play Bejeweled or Words with Friends on his or her phone throughout an entire lecture: Why are you here?

Because none of my classes require attendance, I have to believe that people who attend class only to pass the time engrossed in alternative activities seem to think they are still getting something out of the experience. Hate to break the news, but our bodies do not have sponge-like capabilities by which we can just artlessly absorb professors’ words. Learning goes beyond that, and research has illustrated that what we think is “multitasking” is really just a significant hindrance on our ability to comprehend material, learn and perform. 

Moreover, as someone who feels stung when a conversation partner can’t put down his or her phone, I have become increasingly aware of just how disrespectful needless use of technology is to teachers. They’re not oblivious, and we’re not nearly as stealthy as we think we are. No one just casually falls into the fully downward neck position unless he or she is sleeping, lap-texting or praying, and I doubt your professor assumes the latter. If human decency isn’t a sufficient motivator, consider this: In a time when competitive scholarships and jobs commonly require letters of recommendation, the relationships we maintain with our professors are of utmost importance. Don’t let yours be marked by rudeness and disinterest.

I’m not immune to the distraction potential of our devices. I’ll readily admit to sending the occasional text message while in class, but most of the time I turn my phone off and stow it. I shut my phone down while in “sound” mode so I know that turning it back on would broadcast the obnoxiously loud welcome announcement. Interrupting a 200-person lecture with the classic “ba-da-da-da-da-T-MOBILE ” is not how I’d like to define my class contribution, so there’s no temptation.

I haven’t always been this willing to take a reprieve from constant connectivity. But as I’ve spent more time in college — and watched myself become sufficiently poorer each year — I’ve started to understand that I single-handedly control the value of my college education. Are the menial activities we allow to supersede learning really worth years of student debt or, worse, the realization that we’re grossly unprepared for the real world?

Start recognizing the potential our devices have as conduits for distractions and think about what you might be missing out on while lost in cyberspace. If you’ve decided that your own ROI on your education isn’t important, consider those for whom you don’t have a right to make that decision. Be thoughtful of your classmates and realize that your sidetracked moments are not occurring underneath an invisibility cloak. If you choose to spend class time sending duck-face selfies via Snapchat, consider if that activity might be better accomplished if you just stayed home — or at least from the back row.