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Stone Tablets

March 9, 2010

The Washington Post has an interesting piece on computers in the classroom. I’ve had this discussion at length with my colleagues, and I seem to be in the minority with regard to limiting extracurricular activities.

I tell my students that they can come and go as they please, that if they’re hungover they probably shouldn’t be in class, that they’ll learn more if they’re not facebooking, that I don’t take attendance — evah — and that if they’re in my class, they should be there for the right reasons.

Essentially, my attitude is that students should be in my class because they want to learn the material, because they’re interested in the discussion, because they are motivated to engage deep issues with other students, and so on. I don’t want them there for the wrong reasons. If they’re there for the wrong reasons, they’re just bodies, taking up space.

I’m not at all a fan of authoritarian edicts, and I don’t see edicts as an essential part of a professor’s role. Quite the contrary. It seems to me that the role of the professor is to cultivate an interest in the material that “comes from within,” even if it means that some non-insignificant portion of the class is checked out.

Any thoughts?

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8 comments

  1. I agree, and have essentially the same classroom policy. I’m not much of a fan of authoritarian edicts either 😉


  2. I’ve only taught science and discussion classes. Laptops don’t help in copying down Maxwell’s Equations, and there’s not much writing at all in a discussion-based class.

    I think “authoritarian edicts” depend strongly on the class. Below college and even during your first couple years of college, it might be necessary to issue them. After that, I agree with you.

    It also depends on whether the class is a generic general education requirement, or an optional senior-level seminar.


  3. I’m pretty much the same–and I do it in part because not disciplining them disciplines me. It’s my job to make sure the inherent interest of the subject is so conspicuous that everyone will attend; when attendance drops, it’s a sign that I’m not doing my job (among other things).


  4. I really like Andrew Cullison’s policy – http://www.andrewcullison.com/2009/01/new-laptop-policy-in-my-classes/


  5. I think you should ban laptops. I made up my mind 2 semesters ago when I saw someone shopping for shoes in the middle of class.
    Authority can be a good thing. To assume students will follow class because they are committed, interested, intelligent, the teaching is good etc. is naive. One more consequence of ignoring the doctrine of original sin. We are all flawed to some degree, and we need each other and good rules to help us be better.


    • Meh. Bullshit.


      • See, you just proved my point.


  6. I teach in a computer lab. I have no idea what they are doing out there at their computers. Have at it, as long as I can’t hear them. Folks in the back row typing a lot are usually in the F – C grade range. Students up front paying attention are usually in the C+ – A range. They want to learn or they don’t. It’s up to them.

    My operating system class is in the hardware lab (it’s what they give me…). The computers are along the walls with the monitors all facing inwards. Most everyone in that class usually gets an A or B and no one gets on the computer while I’m talking. It’s a night class so we have lab time after I’m done with the lecture. I sometimes think that all computer lab classes should have the computers along the wall with the monitors facing inwards. YMMV.



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