12.11.09

RECLAIMING THE CULTURE, ONE PROFESSOR AT A TIME. A Northern Star columnist doesn't enjoy interacting with distracted people.

Holding doors for people seems to be a thing of the past.

Basic respect for professors has gone out the window, and if you thought anyone would care that you have a paper to write when the lab is full and half of the room is on Facebook, think again.

Though the lab attendants do a good job keeping people off of their cell phones in the computer labs, they seem to miss when students are carrying on conversations like they’re the only ones in the room.

The winner for the rudest behavior definitely goes to texting mid-conversation.

Why are students disregarding the people around them, and where does this self-centered attitude come from?

The answer, dear reader, is in the research.

Brad Sagarin, associate professor of psychology, specializes his research in social and evolutionary psychology, social influence and resistance to persuasion.

Sagarin believes that two key elements explain the increasing perception of rude behavior and bad manners: the change in social norms and the change in technology.

“Technology puts us in a chronic state of distraction ... I have the capacity to be rude in a larger amount of situations,” Sagarin said.

He points out that Facebook chatting, e-mail checking and text messaging become addictive.

These habits make us oblivious to the world around us, and we show a lack of respect to other people as a result.

So, what can other students do to address those people who seem to disregard everyone around them?

“I think students can do something about it: They can change the norm. If you find it rude when somebody is doing something in class, frankly you as a fellow student are in a better position than I as a faculty member to chastise them for it,” Sagarin said.

Sagarin believes that people learn behaviors based on what they observe around them.

If they see that everyone is on their cell phones texting in class, it’s their cue that this behavior is acceptable.

Student self-enforcement is helpful, on the general principle that emergent orders are more robust than top-down systems. Some help from the professoriate matters, as one University of Virginia economist notes.
Prof. Kenneth Elzinga places the main responsibility on the teachers responding to this issue by stating that both large and small lectures can be detrimental. “It all depends on how the teacher conducts the class and how eager the students are to learn. An engaging professor and an engaged student yields an optimal classroom equilibrium.”
Classroom management by wandering around, and encouraging engagement, helps. The author, a columnist for The Cavalier Daily, expands.
When students are in classroom sizes of 10 to 20 students, they are under pressure at all times to stay alert, focus and respond to questions posed with accuracy and sincerity. Professors should branch out and expand their teaching strategy to incorporate more interaction between themselves and the students. Clicker questions were one step in this direction but still act as just one more technological interface further isolating the teacher and those being taught. Moving along the rows of class, passing off the microphone to gain student feedback, and even skits performed in Price is Right fashion where we can “Come on Down!” will engage students at a much higher level and assuredly cut down on students cutting up. I’ve never seen so many Internet pages shut down and PowerPoint slides pop up on laptops when my professor decided to waltz up the rows of the auditorium.
That column courtesy University Diaries, where the emergent order is getting top-down reinforcement.

Latecomers, dozers and loud-whispers have always plagued college classrooms. But the ability to access Facebook, e-mail, games, and the Internet on a BlackBerry, laptop, or iPhone is a new frontier of distraction - and some professors are trying to do something about it.

Several professors agree more students are using laptops in class and more are twiddling on their smart phones like iPhones and BlackBerrys. To combat eyes and minds wandering to news feeds and Twitter lists, instead of English readings or economics lessons, a growing number of faculty members have decided to ban laptops in an effort to win back students' attention and improve learning.

The laptops tend to turn students into court reporters, that is, when it doesn't turn them into news junkies.

Margaret Soltan, professor of English, said she began asking students not to bring laptops about three years ago, and put a formal no-laptop policy in her syllabus this year.

"I began to notice that students with laptops weren't really looking at me and they were just sort of mechanically taking notes," Soltan said.

She said small English classes require students to engage in discussion, and she could tell the students with laptops were less focused on the class. Sometimes she couldn't see their faces, she said.

"It just seemed to me that for the sake of discussion and focus and intensity in the classroom and just social engagement, it would be better if they didn't use them," Soltan said.

"I haven't heard any complaints from any student, and I have heard gratitude from students," Soltan added.

Soltan said that some colleagues of hers have policies banning cell phones in the classroom, and that it may be the next step for her.

"That's the next front," said Soltan of cell phones in class. "The war never ends."

Many professors agreed that phones in class are less of a disruption than laptops, but Soltan noted that some students check their phones religiously.

"Of course all professors notice students surreptitiously checking their cell phones and to me, there's sort of a compulsion about it. I mean the class only lasts for an hour or so," Soltan said.

Those surreptitious checks are opportunities for a quick "What do you think?" If the metaphor is war, the quick question to the texter is the quickest way into his or her O-O-D-A loop.

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