The consequences of classroom internet scrolling


Recall the last class you were in that required you to use your laptop. Most likely, it is a majority of them. Out of the some 20-30 students using a laptop, how many of them are using it for class purposes? A glance around a classroom says certainly not all. How many of those looking at their laptops will keep their eyes on coursework for the entire time? It is a decreasingly small number.

Having your computer for class became a necessity in the digital world. Our parents’ stories of having to attend every class and take diligent notes, and the fact that  you missed it was imperative to get them from someone else you trusted fall by the wayside in the age of online PowerPoints and eBooks.  Sitting in class, there is a feeling in the back of a student’s mind that if you miss a piece of information, learning it in a moment of need will only require a modest search through the wealth of information already at our fingertips. We can control search our textbooks for a term to memorize. If you didn’t hear the professor explain the new formula on the board, there’s a plethora of YouTube videos already on the topic. It is easy to find the condensed information and main points of a lecture on a PowerPoint, sans the life stories and vaguely concealed political ramblings of the professor, or so we tell ourselves.

These thoughts creep onto the edge of our brains as we struggle to pay attention in class. We stare at our laptop screens, the call of infinite amounts of entertainment all sounding just a little bit better than learning the material on the PowerPoint. It is extremely easy to leave Canvas and browse Facebook. The temptation is always there to zone out looking at Reddit. Whenever a class becomes less than riveting, skiing videos sound much more interesting.

If you were a recovering alcoholic, you probably wouldn’t keep liquor in your cabinet. If you were trying to quit smoking, you probably wouldn’t keep a pack of cigarettes in your pocket. Such is the same way with technology in class: the temptation is ever present. If our attention spans are less than nine seconds, how can we be trusted with a laptop?

We are left with a paradox: technology is a necessity for learning in most classes yet the main contributor to distraction for students. Have you experienced the phenomenon that a teacher will ask a question, and students hear the inflection in their voice, indicating a question has been asked, but not have the slightest idea how to answer it, or even what it was?  A quick check of the laptop screens around the room confirms that the deafening silence that follows a teacher’s unanswered question is usually due to technology disengagement.

In today’s world, where most information can be found with internet resourcefulness and clever Google searches, the relationship between teacher and student changes. How we rate the efficacy of a teacher has become whether they are able to use technology and engage students without distraction. In a world where information is at our fingertips, we place a greater emphasis on teachers who are able to give us real world applications, personal experience and why something matters. While students love being able to access any information at any time, the eventual disengagement from the class is counterproductive to this want. Agree with it or not, many students have come to expect teachers to not just be vessels for information, but performers and entertainers of a sort as well.

In light of this, students and teachers should have an awareness of the symbiosis of the relationship between them. Students at DU pay money to be here, to learn, grow and absorb from the teacher resources available. We have a responsibility to respect the time of the teacher and class, to resist the temptations of mindless in class internet scrolling and the expectation that the narrative of the material learned in class will not always be Game of Thrones level of engaging. Teachers also have a responsibility to become more than simply vendors of information, but focus on engagement, applicability and experience. They have a responsibility to use their humanity to care about the success and futures of their students. Consider the mutual respect of this relationship the next time the urge to mindlessly scroll calls to you.

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