i will never understand you (or me)

As a child of the 80s, I went to college right on the cusp of an electronic educational boom. At Westminster, one of the major selling points to students were the “smart classrooms.” In them we had integrated overheads, projectors, DVD/CD players, and more. This made us technologically advanced. To get the internet at school, however, you had two options: plugging into it through the network or a computer lab. There was no internet in classrooms, and I don’t think it was until my senior year that I had even heard of wireless internet in the classrooms.

So when I got to Fuller last year the idea of having wireless in one building was incredibly enticing. While not a foreign concept to me, I was excited to reach the library’s internet from my classroom. I’m not sure if it’s because I had a viable distraction, or if it was just to be rebellious, but something compelled me (and others, many, many others) to indulge in the world wide web (thank you, Al Gore?).

And so when in late April our campus administration unveiled wireless internet throughout campus (that actually reaches my apartment- shh!!), I was elated to relinquish the fight for internet with McAlister Library weak feed – as was the entire campus. Or so I thought.

There is now a massive debate between faculty and students over the role that the internet has, and what role teacher and student plays in class structure. Note that this entire debate is unspoken – but we all know, to varying degrees, that faculty doesn’t like it. Some faculty have a major problem with the reality that students are in fact online during their lectures. Similarly, some students are frustrated by the distractions that other student’s internet/computer usage presents.

Conversely some students welcome the internet for any number of reasons: alleviating boredom, providing a distraction, or looking up things pertinent to class during the lecture. Of course there have been students doing things that I would call ridiculous, namely watching movies or video games. That’s where the line is drawn for me. Come on!!! Seriously? Why are you in class?! Why the money? Why the time?

Thinking back to my last educational experience, when I was in my “smart classroom” days at Westminster, I was gifted at writing out my schedule during a class that was less engaging, or in one that I was choosing to disengage. Some days I was really good at drawing stars and hearts. (But in reality, I struggled for four years to make a perfectly outlined star sans crossed-over-lines. Alas, I am not an artist.)

This topic might seem a bit trivial, but the school must recognize the catch-22. My fear is that the institution, or in the very least administration, could take a stand erring on the side of faculty, instead of students. My retort would be to change the size of classes. I’m sure it won’t happen. But that’s my major gripe. I want more contact with some professors that a 70-person class will ever allow, no matter how gracious or willing the faculty member may be with office hours and e-mail.

The question about computers, the internet and classes is both pedagogical and philosophical. Why express the desire to teach in an environments without a laptop, and yet have some classes that require me to print off 100 pages of material? Why put plugs in a classroom that I’m not supposed to sit with a computer? I don’t feel like wasting all that paper, let alone the additional paper to take notes, so I choose to bring my laptop to class. Why have a class where I must take notes for every class only to turn in the notes in paragraph form?

Different courses require different forms of engagement in class, but the reality is that certain professors are requiring us to bring a laptop in order to keep with all the information thrown at us in a two-hour window. I had a class this past summer that after 12 hours of lectures, I had 37 pages of outlined notes. There is no way I would have had that much had I been using a notebook and paper. And more importantly, if I want to be distracted, I will. If I want to focus, I will.

In many of the tours that I give, I have never once not been asked about the internet at Fuller. “Do you have wireless?” “Does internet reach the classroom?” I don’t know if having the internet or not using makes me less of a Christian or a follower, as does doodling, texting, sleeping, talking, or missing classes. There will always be students who skip the majority of classes, not complete all the reading, daydream or sleep.

Certainly faculty recognizes extenuating circumstances for students. But it seems that the internet could end up being the administration or faculty’s response to a growing frustration that the faculty has in regard to ever-challenging demands put on them by students, administration, and peers to be engage, challenge, and motivate every single student. Just as they want a perfect student, so too do I want a perfect faculty member. I want a professor who doesn’t go on tangents every five seconds, who is always prepared for a lecture, who remembers that not everyone learns in one teaching method, and who recognizes that sometimes an extenuating circumstance means I can’t make it to class.

But I’m ridiculous in demanding the perfect lecturer. The reality is that in this broken environment where each person should be willing to admit that we aren’t perfect, neither side is always willing to allow for these very flaws. We moan, groan and find specific issues to vehemently fight. I’m not sure that any of these tactics will ever solve our problems.

Both sides will have to come to the table aware that students will distract themselves, internet or not. Professors may not use visual teaching, and I still need to figure out a way to engage with the material and topic. To eliminate internet in a classroom simply because students aren’t all looking at you, or because there is less interaction will still result sans internet. I’d guess that in part its the size, and in part because of the availability of classes for students (read: small number of choices at given times because of lack of space), which again is the heart of the problem at a school this size. And yet I came here in part because of its size: such is the nature of this beast.

Students conversely need to figure out why in the world they’re at Fuller. If you’re here just because you have nothing better to do, maybe $1400 a class isn’t really worth it. If you’re going to go to a class and planning to look online and could be distracting others, be kind and sit in the back. If you are easily distracted, sit in the front of the room. The responsibility should be on the students, not only the professors, to facilitate the safe learning environment that the faculty is attempting to create. If we’re really adults, and you really are planning on going into full-time ministry, practical psychological work or the mission field, how in the world can you not talk to the distractor and ask them to stop during a break? Do you really need to watch a movie during your systematics class? Really? Grace, folks. Grace.

I’ve looked at this question from the other side, wondering what would I want from a classroom. I think that of course the ideal setting would have students all engaged, excited, and passionate about my passion, but in reality, some people will have absolutely not passion about youth ministry, but need to fulfill a requirement. What would I do to make a safe learning environment?

I think Day One I’d start the class off at some point by explaining that the front of the room is for those who either easily get distracted, or have a need hearing or sight wise. Those who want to in any way participate as a distraction need to take the back of the room seats. During break switch seats if you find a problem – and I won’t take note of the situation. And if you have a problem afterwards with someone being a distraction. Either move yourself or gently ask the person to cease and desist.

Maybe I’m a bit to idealistic, but I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard anything addressed like this in a class at Fuller, yet I know that every professor to varying levels are frustrated. I wish we all knew how to behave like adults from the student and professors’ positions, but we all are much better at whining and making sweeping generalizations than we are at maturely and kindly dealing with problems. Tattling or demanding the removal of internet because of the frustration will probably do nothing but angering more and more.

:::::for my generation:::::.::::tyler james::::


3 responses to “i will never understand you (or me)

  1. daedalus1898

    Good thoughts chief.

    Will we ever see a class of 10-20 students @ Fuller? Probably not. Why is it that Fuller takes exception to the normal grad school mentality that each student is to contribute to the thought process of the whole? Can we do this if we all have our faces glued to our computers during class?

    Yet, I can’t imagine class without gmail…

  2. Ha, replying back on your blog…

    Thanks a lot; I know it’s a silly question but I was skimming various entries from the student/alum blogs today and when you were talking about breaks, I realized I had absolutely no idea what to expect of the quarter system.

    I’m thinking about either Fuller or Duke (or…??), and this is obviously only a tiny detail… but it’s still good to know!

    I appreciate your getting back with me. :o)


  3. Great post, Libby. I popped in via facebook and am thrilled to ‘hear’ you voicing thoughts that need to be heard (by all parties involved, myself included).

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