Monday, October 24, 2011

The corrosive effect of distracted students on everything we teachers do

Electronic distractions like laptops that cause students to disengage during class can be demoralizing to the teacher who gets most of his professional satisfaction and fulfillment by connecting with students. And that may lead to lower morale and less enthusiasm for other parts of the job such as scholarship and service. At least that's a theory suggested  by this Chronicle of Higher Ed in this article titled "Ill-Mannered Students Can Wreck More Than Your Lecture."

Sure, there's the old saw that goes "if students are distracted, it's probably because you're a boring teacher." Teachers always have to look close and hard at their role in creating uninterested, disengaged students. On the other hand, even the most engaging teacher will have trouble competing with Facebook, video games, porn, shopping and other online attractions that our brain is programmed to seek out.

Enthusiasm for teaching is hard to sustain when students seldom make eye contact because their heads are bent over their iPhones, believe they can follow the class discussion while updating their Facebook pages, and habitually arrive late, leave early, or don't show up at all, confident that the day's material will be posted online and available "on demand." If the six million results yielded by a quick Google search of "digital distractions in the postsecondary classroom" is anything to go by, these are common occurrences. And they can undermine the enthusiasm of any professor.
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Being demoralized and offended, however, never propelled anyone further along the path of creative productivity. Instead, it digs us deeper and deeper into a rut of self-fulfilling prophecy. By berating ourselves for being poor classroom teachers, we become poor teachers. By criticizing our students' classroom behavior, we constantly find evidence to substantiate our claims. It becomes perversely gratifying to be proved right over and over again.

But it also becomes stale and self-defeating because the negative emotions associated with this state—indignation, self pity, cynicism, and apathy—block our ability to assume a consistently logical, objective perspective. And insofar as the best scholarly work is logical and objective, our ability to produce sound scholarly work is undermined. We become "stuck in a moment" of a limited, disheartening perspective. And there's no traction to be had there.

There's also no joy. Thus we lose an additional element necessary for a productive scholarly output: the self direction—and confidence—that comes from liking what we do. The different aspects of our jobs can't be neatly compartmentalized. An aversion to teaching (which constitutes a significant part of most faculty workloads) because we perceive our students to be disrespectful is bound to leach into, and undermine, other areas of work, including our research.

Continue reading here.


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