On-campus internet access: educational or distracting?

MaryAnne Shults

Most students will admit that, on at least one occasion, he or she has gotten sucked into the vortex of digital distraction. A pause to quickly check for an important e-mail or to use a search engine to find an illustration to pop into lecture notes in a Word document to better explain a concept can become a Web surfing marathon. One can quickly lose focus as to why he or she is sitting in a classroom in the first place: to listen, watch and learn.

On the other hand, some students have no qualms about using their laptops, iPhones or similar wireless devices to send a text message or e-mail to their friends, buy Nike shoes from eBay, design their dream car at Subaru.com, or search for the perfect part-time job.

Bringing laptops and wireless Internet access into classrooms was theoretically introduced to enrich the classroom experience, for example, allowing instructors to utilize online multimedia or interactive lectures.

Due to students’ abuse of this privilege, there is an increasing backlash against classroom computer use from instructors. Not surprising since it is rude, not to mention inappropriate, not pay to attention when an instructor is standing in front of the room and doing their job: teaching. From the person who chats noisily on a phone in a restaurant, to someone’s cell going off and playing in the middle of a presentation or lecture, we are producing a society of discourteous technology users.

To prevent distractions, some colleges have developed technology campaigns to help students be more sensitive to classroom etiquette. The University of Wisconsin at Madison provides information via links to Web pages that faculty members can note in their syllabi. One link encourages students to stay on task and not distract others or themselves. Another provides ground rules for wireless use and classroom laptop etiquette.

We are taught basic respect in kindergarten: listen when someone else is speaking. So if that Statistics lecture is deathly boring, try not to be tempted to log into Pogo.com to play a little online Blackjack with your newly learned probability skills.

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