An English professor at Mount Wachusett Community College, Susan Coleman Goldstein has learned something by taking a computer skills class during her sabbatical: Class time is social media time for many students. The girl sitting next to her in the computer lab writes to friends and flips through Facebook photos, swiftly minimizing the page when the instructor walks by.
When I stand in front of this same room as a professor, and see students typing busily on their computers, I know now that they may well be responding to a remark that a friend posted on their Facebook wall. When I see them staring so intently at their computer screens and I am thinking they are absorbed in writing their drafts, I know now that they may be flipping through someone’s photos from a party the night before. When I walk to the back of the room, and up and down the aisles, and see only a Word document open on their screens, I know now not to feel so smug, because Facebook, if not minimized, can be easily accessed when I walk out of view—even though I have a written policy on my syllabus prohibiting use of social media in class, even though I warn them out loud, and even though I patrol the aisles as much as I can.
As a student, she finds her neighbor’s flashing photos distracting. As an instructor, she thinks it’s rude. “Why do students need to log into Facebook during class? Why can’t they just leave it alone for 75 minutes?”
But students say they’re just taking a break: Nobody pays attention all the time. Goldstein wonders if she should accept this:
If a student can zone out and still stay on track with the course material, should scrolling through Facebook pictures during class bother me at all? If students fall behind because they are not listening, and are instead engaged in social media, isn’t that the unfortunate choice they have made?
But it’s discouraging to be ignored by students who are too busy chatting with friends to react to their professor’s questions.