You’re Fooling Yourselves
You may think we don’t see you texting during class. You may think you’re being slick with your hand(s) below the edge of your desk, or with one arm dropped down by your side, your occasional furtive glances up to see if we’re staring your down yet. You may even have the touch-texting thing down so well that you can stare at us, glassy-eyed, jaw slightly slack, while your brain processes whatever urgent message you’re sending to your friends in the world outside (or even to those in the same class). But we do. Or more of us do than you think.
I couldn’t help but giggle to myself as I read this story, especially when I saw “that nine in 10 admit to sending text messages during class — and nearly half say it’s easy to do so undetected,” because you only think you’re getting away with it. I see you when you do it, and I mark it down every time, and when it comes to the end of the term when you need that half-point to go from a C+ to a B-, you’re probably not going to get the benefit of the doubt. And when you complain to me about it, I’ll let you know that you lost points on your participation grade because you were constantly on your phone in class–especially since my syllabus specifically says that you will, and since I reminded you about it all during the semester.
But you can text and pay attention at the same time, or you think you can anyway, so that rule can’t possibly apply to you, and I assume you believe that even when you send me an email over the weekend asking me to clarify the assignment that’s due the coming Tuesday, asking me questions that I answered multiple times in class the Thursday before.
The truth is that you can’t do both–and that’s not a reflection on you. It’s just the way we humans are. I used to be like you. I thought I could read closely with the radio or tv on. I thought I could hold a conversation while reading an article online, or hold two conversations at once, or play a video game and talk to someone, or write with the radio on, and I suppose it’s technically true that I’m able to go through the motions of both activities at the same time, but the reality is that I’m not doing either one of them well. I’m not paying attention to the person I’m talking to, or I’m not paying attention to the game I’m playing, or I’m not getting anything out of what I’m reading or writing. And neither are you, no matter how much you think you are.
The problem is that we really have no sense of how competent we are while we’re multi-tasking. We need someone to call us out on our distractedness–like you do to your friends when you tell them to pay attention to you for a second, or like I do when I tell you to put your phone away in class.
Some of my colleagues have banned electronic devices from their classes, and I don’t blame them for doing it. I haven’t, because I think it’s just as valuable for you to learn how to control your impulses as it is to listen to what I have to say, and when you don’t control them, your grades suffer as a result. That’s the case whether we’re talking about texting in class or partying the night before a paper is due.
i should clarify something here. You probably are getting away with it in some of your classes–those massive lecture classes where you don’t have any real contact with the professor, for example. And I’ll be frank here–I didn’t like those classes when I was an undergrad, and I don’t think they’re very sound pedagogically speaking on the whole. But those are the kinds of classes where you really need to be paying attention (unless you’re teaching yourself out of the book, in which case, good job) because you’re not going to get one-on-one instruction from a professor who actually knows your name and what your weaknesses are.
But if you’re in a class of 25 in a small room, your teacher knows you’re texting. We’re not blind. We’re just not going to hold your hand and make sure you succeed. You’re in college now. Time to handle your own business.