Towards the end of last semester, I was sitting in a discussion-based class when I noticed that the girl next to me was on Facebook.
A few minutes later, she was writing an e-mail. Before the class was over, she searched for plane tickets, shopped online, and had a conversation on Facebook Chat with another girl in the class.
I’m guessing she probably missed some of the more subtle aspects of narrative arc being debated that day.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. Students frequently use their laptops to do just about everything other than take notes. They also check and send text messages, study for other classes, and jot down grocery lists. I have to admit, I’ve done most of these things on occasion, and I have a terrible tendency to use class time to make up for the sleep I so often miss.
New information technologies have done great things for education. The Internet may have done more to spread knowledge than any invention since the printing press. You can download lectures from iTunes U and listen to them while you walk to class. Although professors rightly advise against using Wikipedia as a source in a research paper, its entries offer good and generally accurate background on almost any topic you need. More information is available than ever before, and there’s no end in sight to its expansion.
But these new technologies can also get in the way of learning. Studies have shown that we humans aren’t nearly as good at multi-tasking as we think. We can’t really pay full attention in class while we’re surfing the web.
As college students, our chief responsibility is to our education, the most important part of which is the time we spend in class. If we devote more energy to Facebook than we do to contributing to class discussions, we’re letting ourselves down. We’re also showing disrespect to our university, our professors, and the people helping pay our tuition.
Students should continue to use technology to further their education. Sometimes the best way to do that is to sign off.
Nathaniel French is a junior theater major. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com