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Courtesy of my Tumblr, I came across this article on checking Facebook in class. The main focus was on Harvard University, and this quote from the article stood out to me:

Because “Harvard students are generally pragmatic and hyper-concerned about maximizing their Return On Time Investment,” Gandhi writes, they log onto the site (which, of course, was founded at their university in 2003). Besides, he says, students no longer have to pay attention to the professor’s lecture to learn the subject matter because “much of knowledge has become commoditized on the web.” To solve the problem, Gandhi believes professors must “start thinking of themselves as service providers who must constantly innovate to serve students better.”

First off, let me say, I am mighty sick of this jargon which tries to hitch academia to business clichés and tired slogans. It’s only helping along the steady decline of the university as an institution of learning for the joy of knowledge and morphing it into a profit-driven business.

Also, a Harvard Education is apparently not really worth much if you think that you can get the exact same amount of information and depth from reading a Wikipedia article as you can from a college-level lecture. Oy Vey.

But what’s most offensive is the idea that the professors are the ones at fault in this case. Maybe I am blessed to have had great professors, but for me, my classes have been akin to listening to a 1930s radio drama; an ongoing saga in which I eagerly await each new segment, using my textbooks the way a child of my grandma’s generation would have used a decoder ring.

Even if that were not the case though, even if the professor’s dullness rivalled that of Professor Binns, I wouldn’t consider checking Facebook during a lecture. I’m an antsy twentysomething who does get bored sometimes, but I’m also, like these Harvard students, pragmatic. My pragmatism results in me wanting to give the professor respect (s)he deserves by paying as much attention as I can muster. How can one expect a professor to be engaging when looking at a room full of people staring into glowing screens, anyways?

It should be said also that the in-class Facebook users are the exception, rather than the rule, in my experience. I bring my laptop occasionally to my research seminar, as do my classmates, and we use it for note-taking and research, not as an object of distraction. It also comes in handy for digging up something a professor may have brought up in passing that you wanted to know more about, or showing the professor something interesting you saw, as I did once in class talking about Mitsubishi and Japanese popular culture, and discovering that one of Japan’s great literary icons turned down a position with them in order to write. Have a little faith in our ability to be engaged and respectful, eh?

Fortunately, the article doesn’t long buy this idea that professors are the ones who need to incorporate flash and dazzle to pull away the facebookers:

Friends who work as part-time college instructors have complained to me that they occasionally feel like circus performers putting on a show for coeds with short attention spans. No matter how enthusiastic they are about the subject, or how much engaging multimedia, discussions, and group work they include, convincing media-addicted college students to log off Twitter and Facebook and use their laptops solely for taking notes is impossible. Even on campuses that ban electronics from classrooms, students sneak a peek at Facebook through the smartphones they hold in their laps.

Powerpoint, movies, and other multimedia instruments do have a place in the classroom, and they have changed the way classes are taught, for better, if you ask me. But they’re not supposed to be used as a tool to lure in students who feel like nothing is worthwhile unless presented to them from a screen. They’re meant to enhance and complement, and it’s foolish to think that’s what it takes to get a student zoned out on their iPhone to pay attention.

Instead, professors should be given as many chances to offer classes and discussions on topics they are passionate and knowledgeable about, and those of us who take pleasure in learning will catch their infectious enthusiasm. That is a cost-efficient method of seeing a greater amount of interest, and I’ve noticed that in moments of great zeal, most professors don’t mind what happens to the one watching 300 under his desk when the rest of us are in rapt attention.

If the prospect of going through four years of expensive university on cruise control and graduating with a head as empty as it was when they entered can’t scare them into closing Facebook, I don’t know what will.