roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Technology for the Classroom Can Suck Donkey Scrote

with 6 comments

Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon at heart.  But I don’t think technology has a huge place in the classroom.

Portable telephones, you say?  But where's your portable telegraph pole?

Portable telephones, you say? But where’s your portable telegraph pole?

Not when you are in the humanities, anyways.  Or if it does, the instructor should be the one controlling it.

Why do my students (and yours, fo sho) pay tens of thousands of dollars each semester for the privilege of sitting in a classroom, only to ignore every fucking thing that is happening around them?

Let me tell you a story, gentle reader.

I wasted spent my weekend coming up with lesson plans to introduce what my students would consider a difficult and inaccessible text.  I was pretty excited about it too, because I came up with a few gimmicky fun activities to ‘trick’ them into learning and ease them into the text.  And then some visuals to make the text come alive before we began the herculean feat of interpreting it all.

So how did it work out on the battlefield?  Well, the ‘fun’ stuff was fun.  There was attention and participation.  Better than I could have expected.  Then the idea was to show a few minutes of a related film, to give em a visual.

So picture it, Sicily 1937.  The movie is on, the lights are off. The film may or not feature artfully arranged facial hair and unintentionally hilarious accents.

I saw a student on their phone and told hir to put it away.  A minute later, I turned my eyes away from the film to do a lifeguard eye sweep of the room, and see another student smiling to hirself as hir heroin screen glowed under hir finger.  I realize typing this out that it shouldn’t seem like such a big fucking deal but I felt outraged like some shitty roman emperor realizing his subjects don’t really love him but just want protection from gangs of marauders.

So I shut the movie off and stared at them.  Asked again for what felt like the millionth time this semester, why the hell are you guys here if you are just going to stare at your phones?  And I gave them an assignment to do that, as I later realized, is really just a punishment for me since I’ll have to read the damn things.

So do I have to buy one of those stupid cell phone jammer things? (Or make one, MacGuyver style, since technology ain’t cheap?)

I guess the real problem is that what we do in my classroom isn’t important to my students.  If it was, they wouldn’t be on their fucking phones at all.

So how the hell do I deal with that?

6 Responses

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  1. I don’t know what to do but I’d have to ask myself why on earth are these students in school in the first place!? I mean if they just want to look at their phones they don’t need to waste your time. Do they really need to have a degree if they’re are so uninterested. You put a great deal of effort into doing what you did and they should have the decency to have listened and after all they did pay to be there. To be honest I don’t know what to say or conclude. Perhaps they’re just not interested in anything and just wanted to be entertained? …I’m now grasping at straws to be honest since I’m at a loss what to suggest to be honest. Maybe a cell phone jammer is the solution??


    April 3, 2013 at 20:36

    • thanks for the comment, anthea. I think most of em feel like they need to have that piece of paper saying they went to college. and my class is one of the annoying things they are supposed to do to get the paper. the school sells itself as a ‘technical’ place, though it isn’t, and students are required to get a ‘general education.’ though its all kind of a joke.. i think these are social and policy problems, nothing i can fix in my tiny jail cell of a classroom..


      April 3, 2013 at 21:23

  2. I used to note who I saw using phones in the classroom (this was in lit classes as well), not say anything when it happened, and then announce the names at the end of class. Not that I believe they cared much about being called out, but I made “participation” 15% of the overall grade and those on a phone at any time received a zero for participation for the day (this was in 14 pt, bold font on the syllabus). Enough zeroes, along with the fact that those who fuck around in class regularly tend to be B or lower students anyway, and their best possible overall grade was usually a C or C-. Along with no penalties for absences (beyond the participation grade), this worked okay. People who kept getting called out stopped showing up (most of ’em) or turned it around (the special few). Not that this course of action would necessarily work for your class, of course.

    The best thing I ever did was stop giving a shit, though.


    April 4, 2013 at 00:19

    • Thanks for your comment, nightwork. That sounds both effective and like a lot of work. And I hear you about the less giving of the shits also. It’s a process, I guess.


      April 5, 2013 at 14:07

  3. If the students are younger, this is the way that they lead their lives and don’t even recognize that it is rude or considered poor behavior. They were born with technology practically integrated into their biology and think that they can multitask well. (Studies show that they can’t.) This belief and ingrained behavior is hard to challenge. The increasing need for infotainment in the classroom is one of my reasons for choosing to leave academia. (Showing a film used to count as edutainment, but it seems as though that isn’t even enough when their brains are becoming wired for “boredom” when they are forced to do only one thing.) I can’t lecture for more than 15 minutes without eyes glazing over (even interjecting humor, energy, relevant examples to their lives) and it has gotten worse over the years. I ban the use of computers (unless for a special need) and the use of phones from the class and explain that I believe that these technologies get in the way of meaningful communication and create a barrier to learning.

    At previous institutions I taught at, I had a policy that I would answer any phones that rang (stated lightheartedly, but meaningfully). And I also counted phone use during class against the participation grade. If it got really bad (luckily it didn’t) I had a plan to confiscate the phone for the duration of the class and make a joke, “I promise not to use too many of your minutes.” It is my dream that a “technology in the classroom” session be held during orientation socializing students about how their technology use in the classroom is considered “rude” and antithetical to learning by their professors. We are expected to learn each generation’s ways of learning. This is useful. But they should hear the results of studies on multitasking and also learn the behavior that is expected of them in the classroom. Ah, to dream. Micromanaging technology and the non-stop entertainment approach that is currently expected in the classroom are two of the smaller, yet nonetheless, contributing factors to my decision to leave academia. Best wishes to you.


    April 5, 2013 at 16:12

  4. This used to bother me to no end when I was teaching — and still would if I were still teaching. One thing I have noticed since leaving academe, though, is that people do this in the workplace all the time and it’s jsut accepted. At most meetings in my office, even ones where we’re discussing what’s supposed to be important stuff, half the room is looking at their phone or tablet. I work at a nonprofit where a lot of people have science PhDs. It’s a quasi academic environment and usually important to more or less use your brain to follow what goes on in meetings. Unlike in the classroom, people do listen and participate … but they’re still checking their email or whatever the whole time. I used to be a holdout, but the sad truth is that since I got an iPad and started bringing it to meetings to take notes, I find myself engaging in the very same behavior.

    Meh, it still really isn’t appropriate in the classroom, especially if you’ve asked them explicitly to put their damn phones away. If you have technology in your classroom (computer, projector), maybe you could create a Twitter feed for the class and live stream it onscreen? Tweeting engaged and meaningful comments could count towards class participation?

    The cynical part of me says this would be inviting someone to tweet “shut the fuck up this class is boring me to death,” but at least then you’d have an excuse to take the phone away and break it over their head.

    recent Ph.D.

    April 5, 2013 at 19:57

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