I think a fellow at Georgetown Law is making the current stink, but let me say why I agree with his proposition that we outlaw laptops in college classrooms.

If you're listening to lecture, your mind wanders. But what does it wander to? Tired enough, wandering might include the awe inspiring doodle, it might include looking out of the window, and it might include taking a gander at those around you. But at the proverbial end of the day, those things don't really compete too strongly with your instructor. At the end of the day, your mind often wanders right back to where it should be, on content from an expert you simply can't get anywhere else.

No matter how romanticized the belief, I believe we still pay to go to college to listen to experts, and experts producing research in fields that relate directly to our stated profession or life goals. You don't pay to watch Facebook. More to the point, you're not paying to watch a talentless schmuck trained (franchised?) to wade through Powerpoints provided by textbook publishers. Class is not meant to be a battle for your attention. Your ability to lend your attention to whatever the professor has to offer should, at this point, be a moot point.

Are there horrible professors whose classes kill you by sucking hours of your life away giving you nothing in return? Yes. Do your research before taking a class. Might all students zone out at some point? Absolutely, they do. The answer is not to provide more attractive options for those wandering minds. Is it useful to put notes into digital format? Heck yes. But you can accomplish that with a Macintosh Portable from 1989.

(Honestly, the single most useful item for a college instructor would be the ability to limit students' network access. You could easily serve a class website without giving students full Internet access, and turn back on the phat pipe when you needed them to perform research in-class. The wide-open WiFi found in universities today is ill-conceived.)

What concerns me is the war of attention. If students can use laptops, then the answer, often, is to use technology like those the students consume to win back their attention. Fight facebook with facebook, you know? How can we make class interesting and informative? Make it as or more interesting than what's available via WiFi! Show YouTube in class not because it fits, but because it's YouTube! That's a wrong-headed idea.

As more technology enters the classroom expressly to keep "this next generation" glued to their topics, colleges increasingly become mules for the corporations pushing tech. As more technology enters the classroom, more non-tenured, publisher and industry trained faculty find jobs teaching "service learning" courses that are more vocational than research based. Sure they pad the university's bottom line, but they don't share research because they're (relatively to tenure track professors) not really doing research!

The emphasis should not be on how to introduce more consumption into the classroom, but how to push on-site training back onto the site. This limits the scope of universities considerably, but such a change in stated orientation would also free universities back up to cleanly pursue what they, ostensibly, were supposed to be pursuing all along.

When did education become less about sharing and performing research and more about vocation and consumption? More importantly, and beyond simply following the money, why was the compromise to introduce tech for tech's sake made in the first place? Who said that laptops with WiFi in classrooms would necessarily be a boon? What were the course-specific reasons for that system? The US has a capacity fetish (see the FCC representative on the NewsHour this week arguing that more spectrum needs to go to wireless broadband simply on the basis of the US not losing the lead in wireless, as if that alone could argue for such a massive communal give-away), and it's about time the motivations behind implementations of this fetish were properly interrogated and deconstructed.

(Sorry, kinda lapsed into pseudo-acad speak there at the end.)

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