Friday, February 27, 2009

My classes are going really well, and the toleration class may be the best I've had. However, today I want to write about a pet peeve. My biggest problem in recent semesters is text messaging. It is kind of trivial, but it creates enough of a disruption when it gets out of hand to seem more significant than that.

I announce the first day what the ground rules are, and I put them in the syllabus. But still I see students in almost every class texting. At the second class, one student didn't stop when I told him not to do it, and then he abruptly left when I called him on it again. It was before the add / drop deadline, and I was sure he would drop - but he didn't. Yesterday, another student (in a different class) in the front row thought she was being clever by hiding her PDA under the flap of her pocket book during my opening remarks...head down, texting away, oblivious. If I don't nip the behavior in the bud, it gets so out of control that these addicted students do it constantly, and more and more students join them. Then the ones who aren't doing it get angrier and angrier, and I lose control of the room.

My issue with it isn't really that it is rude (although it is). It isn't even that they aren't paying attention to me (that isn't quite true, it does annoy me when they don't listen and then ask me 1,000 questions later about something I have explained 10 times in class, or - even worse - when they finally hear the answer, proceed to complain about being held to some rule or deadline that has been stated many times, insisting I never said it in class or wasn't clear when I did say it). My biggest issue is that these students are not engaged with other students, or the class, ever. They don't learn, much less contribute anything - because they aren't paying attention, and they don't know what anyone is talking about, so how can they contribute? So they sit there in their own world, connected electronically to people elsewhere, exchanging OMGs and LOLs while surrounded by real people that they don't exchange a word with. It's sad to the point of being creepy.

I know electronic communication is addictive. And it seems that people have a different definition of what constitutes an "emergency" in terms of taking cell phone calls these days. They must always be available. Nothing can wait, even fifteen minutes. Hey, I love my Blackberry too, but how would they like it if I whipped it out while they were speaking and started texting...then looked up after a while and said, "huh?"

The downside of enforcing this rule (aside from my not liking to have to pull rank and call students out) is that the classroom becomes a revolving door - students can't wait to chat but they don't want to risk my wrath, so they leave the room whenever the need arises. And it really isn't possible to force students to stay in their seats - I mean this isn't elementary or high school with hall monitors and passes for the bathroom. I do ask them not to make the classroom a revolving door - again, on the syllabus and on the first day of class, but that is even harder to enforce than a cell and texting ban.

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