Demand freedom, not prohibitions, from in-class electronics

by Kenneth Leonard

I’m disappointed to share the following with you, dear reader: I’m still taking classes with professors who insist students take only hand-written notes. I still have professors who forbid the use of electronics in class at a university in the 21st century.

I’m sure these professors have their reasons, but I couldn’t care less what those reasons are. Whatever they are, they’re not intelligent reasons. At best, they restrict the use of electronics out of some inflated sense of self-important responsibility for their students’ success. Here at San Diego State, I have heard professors say they don’t want laptops on during class because they fear their pupils will goof around on Facebook or watch videos during precious class time. As noble as this prohibition may initially seem, its merits disintegrate quickly when subjected to even the slightest scrutiny.

Consider the fact that by babysitting students through a course, professors rob them of the opportunity to experience success or failure on their own terms. In two hypothetical and nearly identical classrooms, distinguished from each other only by professors with different educational philosophies, will students learn more in an environment where they are responsible for their own well-being or one where they are restricted to only the choices an instructor makes for them? I would argue that a less restrictive classroom would mirror real-world experience more accurately, thus providing a more complete educational habitat. In the real world, when people don’t seize opportunities to learn skills that will help them in the future, they just don’t get to have those skills when it would be beneficial—or even essential—to have them. In a similar fashion, if students don’t want to pay attention during class, they run the risk of performing poorly when tested, and it will be entirely their own fault. Such a scenario sounds almost exactly like it would prepare people for the responsibilities of adulthood. Awesome, right?

Professors are not responsible for where a student’s attention is during class. As long as an individual isn’t disruptive, they should be free to do whatever they want without fear of repercussion. Whether a student wants to hang out on Facebook or Reddit, or play Sudoku on their iPad or actually pay attention should be up to them and no one else.

When I go to a restaurant, I’m paying for a combination of services. If I want to order my food and sit there and play games on my phone while it gets cold and then leave the restaurant, I’m free to do so. It’s not the waiter’s job to say anything to me about how I choose to spend time during the meal I paid for.

It’s the same situation with professors. I’m paying for this class. The professor’s job is to present the material and grade my comprehension of it, and it’s my job to do whatever I want with the time I paid for. If I fail your class because I didn’t pay attention, then I paid to fail your class. Also, if I fail, it’s not the professor’s fault. As the student, I am always responsible for my own education. It’s the students’ prerogative to take advantage of their professor’s expertise, and if they don’t carpe every diem possible while in school, well, it sucks to be them, I guess.

This isn’t to say that students who use electronics in class are necessarily wasting time. I use my laptop to take meticulous notes because it’s much more efficient than writing them out by hand. It’s also significantly easier to organize these notes in folders on my desktop for easy access. Sure, if a class is particularly boring or a professor is taking a lot of time to explain a concept I already understand, I’ll catch up on some emails or homework for another course, and there’s nothing wrong with trying to spend my time as efficiently as possible. I’m not going to pretend I’ve never ended up on Facebook chatting with my friends, but if I miss something because I’m distracted, maybe it’ll help me in the long run because I’ll recognize my need to work on time-management skills or how not to multitask. Again, all of these choices regarding how I spend my time should be 100 percent up to me, and not the whims of a professor.

It’s time for SDSU to universally recognize every student’s right to use electronics in class. Professors shouldn’t have the power to threaten students with diminished grades or take away participation points because they don’t understand the benefits of using modern technology. Stop telling us what to do with the services we are paying for. Give us the opportunity to make our own choices. Let us learn on our own terms, from both our failures and triumphs. Without freedom of choice, educational opportunities at SDSU are diminished, and that’s unacceptable.