Don’t cut the cord; students crave the connection

“When I’m a professor, I’m going to do things differently.” 


 That’s a phrase I’ve started to utter almost regularly. I want to be a professor of journalism someday. And while I know there’s no such thing as a perfect professor, I know there are great ones out there. I’ve been lucky to have many at Oakland University.


In my experience at OU, I’ve learned a lot of techniques I hope to employ if I’m fortunate enough to teach classes of my own. But I have developed one very specific problem with some of my professors, one that I hope I will never impose on my students. I imagine this isn’t an OU-specific phenomenon, but it definitely happens on our campus. I can almost guarantee that any person reading this column has run into this.


I’m really frustrated when my professors tell me to turn off my technology in class.


I have the utmost respect for our teachers. My column “Education is too precious to waste on Facebook” printed Jan. 29 earlier this year can attest to that. In fact, in that column I chided students for screwing around in class. But there is a distinction between what I spoke to then and what I’m saying now.


I am more than just a student. I’m a daughter, a sister, an employee, a friend, and most importantly: an adult. I have responsibilities outside the classroom, and sometimes they need tending to.


A lot of us have jobs on which we depend. Using the most basic common sense, without paying jobs, we wouldn’t have the gas money to drive to class. I work at a newspaper. News does not slow down or sleep for class. If I need to occasionally glance at my phone to make sure I don’t have dozens of missed calls from my editor, so be it. Sometimes I really do need to reply to an e-mail because I’m on deadline, and unfortunately that deadline is smack-dab in the middle of class. Recently both of my parents were in the hospital at the same time. During that time, my cell phone could only be turned off over my dead body.

I’m also paying a lot of money to attend my classes. I can’t imagine anything more offensive coming out of my professors’ mouths than “OK, you just paid $1,279 (the cost of a 4-credit class for a senior) for this class, and now you have to turn off your phone and laptop because I don’t want it to be on.” I’m paying for my college experience, so it’s really my prerogative and responsibility to make sure I pay attention. I’m not a child; if I miss an important part of the lecture because I was too busy sending a text, that’s my own fault. Let me handle it.


Even OU is on board with text messages. They encourage students to sign up for  their emergency alert system ( I hope there won’t ever be another emergency when OUPD would implement this system. But if there is a threatening situation on campus, I don’t want to miss the details because my professor insisted my phone stay off. In fact, in an e-mail sent to faculty by OU administration, OU told its professors that they’re not supposed to ask student to turn off their cell phones during class.


I sympathize with professors when they have to deal with students who text message furiously in the middle of a lecture (that little click noise from the keys can never be completely silenced.). It’s rude, no doubt about it. Students should know there’s a time and place when using technology for personal reasons, and the classroom is not it. However, it is less disruptive to send a sentence-long text message than to get up, leave the room, make a call, and come back.


Facebook is obviously not the reason to use a laptop in class. Many a good students use their laptops to take notes. I’m a faster typist than I am a writer, and I’m sure that’s the case for many students. I only use my laptop in class on days when I’m expecting an important e-mail. When it comes to pen and paper, I can get the notes I missed from a classmate. I admit it: I am one of those students who lets the temptation of Facebook seduce me, and I fall into the lull of Internet surfing when I should be paying attention to my professor. That’s why I leave the laptop at home unless absolutely necessary — I know my limits.

This does bring up an interesting development, though. Some students don’t have limits. We were blessed, or cursed (depending on how you see it), with being raised in the era of information overload. Some students truly can multitask. They can text message, Facebook, eat a snack and take notes all at the same time and without breaking a sweat. Maybe this is something I won’t even need to be concerned with if I become a professor, with the way technology is so rapidly moving forward.


In the meantime, my recommendation is this: students, keep your phones on vibrate or silent. It’s disruptive to everyone when your phone starts singing Lady Gaga’s “Love Games” in the middle of a lecture. Also, keep your text messaging to a minimum. Save the full-length conversations for before and after class. 


If you need to use your laptop in class, sit in the back of the room. That way if you happen to stray and find yourself on a web site more interesting than the class, you aren’t distracting the students sitting behind you. 


Professors, please realize that as important as your class is, it is only a small part of the big picture. Sometimes the big picture is more important. We are so much more than just your students, and we can’t pretend otherwise. We can’t put our lives on hold at the door, only to be picked back up when class is over. Life doesn’t wait for class.