Student disconnect in the classroom


Are you actually paying attention in class?

Chances are when you head off to class you have at least two things, your laptop and your phone. If you’re like most students, your laptop is sitting on the desk in front of you opened to Facebook or something of that nature with a word document minimized, ready to open in case the prof walks up the aisle.

Your phone is probably sitting on your lap, or if you’re brave, it’s next to the laptop in front of you, group chat going off about something totally irrelevant. From personal experience, I do both of these things, and from what I can see in the rows in front of me, countless others do too.

Undoubtedly, technology helps us learn. Laptops are efficient for note-taking and the phone for a quick google of a word we don’t understand. Technology has made studying easier and more efficient, yet it also has contributed to a major disconnect within the classroom.

When a student is focused on this type of multitasking, the question must be posed: how engaged are they in class? Before technology, before PowerPoint and Moodle, there was only one option: go to class with a notebook and listen intently to the professor while writing everything down.

This has since changed. PowerPoint easily summarizes the key information for you and Moodle provides the notes you may have missed. I’m a huge fan of both. However, in reality, actively listening to the professor serves students well in remembering information.

As much as we would like it to be, not everything will be included in a PowerPoint or placed on Moodle. If a professor says it in class, its fair game on an exam, and if we’re busy taking a Buzz feed quiz to see what kind of toast we’d be, that’s potential points off down the road.

To me it is not surprising why students are distracted by technological devices in the classroom – put bluntly, class is boring. Even if it is an interesting subject, the classroom environment is more conducive to sleep than learning.

What I mean by this is that education hasn’t really evolved since the 1800’s. Science classes obviously differ, but within the faculty of Arts we still all sit at individual desks facing forward to a whiteboard and PowerPoint as a Professor drones on for an hour and a half, which does not leave much room for student engagement (no matter what the syllabus says).

I don’t know a single person who wants to sit in a chair for over an hour and be talked at. This is why we turn to our devices, to alleviate our potential “death from boredom.”

The vast majority of students believe they can effectively multitask in this fashion, including myself. Professors, on the other hand, believe it is an epidemic.

According to an article published by the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University, 92 percent of students admit to texting in class multiple times. Professors not only worry about the distraction this causes to the student who chooses to use their phone, but they are also worried that it causes a distraction for other students around them.

Here at StFX professors have commented that student disconnect in the classroom has gotten worse over the years. In my opinion, besides the reasons listed above of the classroom being a boring place, increased student disconnect is because many students are involved in things outside of the classroom and heavily involved within their social circle.

For example if you live in residence you are a member of that residences’ Facebook group, if you work a job such as X-patrol, there’s a Facebook group for that too. Even if you live off campus you are still getting constant messages and snapchats from friends. All of these notifications are hard to ignore and we have a compulsive need to check our phone when it vibrates.

We might not be paying as much attention in class as we used to, but I’m confident the “21st Century classroom” will still turn out future politicians, business leaders, and Nobel Prize winners.