The New York Times The New York Times Technology January 2, 2003  

Home
Job Market
Real Estate
Automobiles
News
International
National
Washington
Business
Technology
- Circuits
- Columns
Science
Health
Sports
New York Region
Education
Weather
Obituaries
NYT Front Page
Corrections
Opinion
Editorials/Op-Ed
Readers' Opinions


Features
Arts
Books
Movies
Travel
Dining & Wine
Home & Garden
Fashion & Style
New York Today
Crossword/Games
Cartoons
Magazine
Week in Review
Multimedia/Photos
College
Learning Network
Services
Archive
Classifieds
Book a Trip
Personals
Theater Tickets
NYT Store
NYT Mobile
E-Cards & More
About NYTDigital
Jobs at NYTDigital
Online Media Kit
Our Advertisers
Member_Center
Your Profile
E-Mail Preferences
News Tracker
Premium Account
Site Help
Privacy Policy
Newspaper
Home Delivery
Customer Service
Electronic Edition
Media Kit
Community Affairs
Text Version

25 COMMISSION-FREE TRADES Join Ameritrade today!


Go to Advanced Search/Archive Go to Advanced Search/Archive Symbol Lookup
Search Optionsdivide
go to Member Center Log Out
  Welcome, malak

Professors Vie With Web for Class's Attention

By JOHN SCHWARTZ

Universities are rushing toward a wireless future, installing networks that let students and the faculty surf the Internet from laptop computers in the classroom, in the library or by those ponds that always seem to show up on the cover of the campus brochure.

But professors say the technology poses a growing challenge for them: retaining their students' attention.

Advertisement

Check out our post-holiday electronics sale!
2002 Customer Favorites:

A floor lamp that spreads sunshine all over a room...

Put all of your holiday photos onto your computer

Guests gone? Get a good nights sleep!

Movies. Anytime. Anywhere.

A full, rich sound from something this small?

A feature-rich digital camera at a price you can afford

If you donít back up your hard drive immediately... donít blame us!




In a classroom at American University in Washington on a recent afternoon, the benefits and drawbacks of the new wireless world were on display. From the back row of an amphitheater classroom, more than a dozen laptop screens were visible. As Prof. Jay Mallek lectured graduate students on the finer points of creating and reading an office budget, many students went online to Blackboard.com, a Web site that stores course materials, and grabbed the day's handouts from the ether.

But just as many students were off surfing. A young man looked at sports photos while a woman checked out baby photos that just arrived in her e-mailbox.

The screens provide a silent commentary on the teacher's attention-grabbing skills. The moment he loses the thread, or fumbles with his own laptop to use its calculator, screens flip from classroom business to leisure. Students dash off e-mail notes and send instant messages. A young man who is chewing gum shows an amusing e-mail message to the woman next to him, and then switches over to read the online edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Distraction is nothing new. As long as there have been schools, students have whispered, passed notes and even gazed out the window and daydreamed. The arrival of laptop computers, however, introduced new opportunities for diversion, and wireless introduces an even broader range of distraction, said Dylan Brooks, a senior broadband and wireless analyst at Jupiter Communications.

"They could have played solitaire or Minesweeper before," Mr. Brooks said. "Now they can do that or seven million other games, or watch a full-length feature film."

This is especially galling to law professors, many of whom still live in the world depicted in "The Paper Chase," the 1973 film in which an imperious Prof. Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. held his students in terrified thrall.

"This is an addictive thing that hurts the students themselves," said Ian Ayres, a professor at the Yale Law School who opposes much of the Internet's entry into the classroom, saying that computer use is rude and that other students are "demoralized" by seeing their peers' attention wander.

"When you see 25 percent of the screens playing solitaire, besides its being distracting, you feel like a sucker for paying attention," Professor Ayres said.

Unless law students are fully engaged in the class, he said, they miss out on the give and take of ideas in class discussion and do not develop the critical thinking skills that emerge from "deeply tearing apart a case."

Professor Ayres tried to prohibit all Internet use in his classroom. The students "went ballistic," he said, and insisted that their multitasking ways made them more productive and even more alert in class.

Lately, he said, he has loosened the restrictions, telling students they could surf from the back rows, so others would not be distracted.

One professor at a law school in Texas became so upset by the level of student distraction in 2001 that he took a ladder to school, climbed up to reach the wireless transmitter in his classroom ó and disconnected it. The students protested. The administration told him to plug it back in. But the point was made, he said, and he regained the attention of the class.

In 2002, he told his students that they could not use laptops in his class at all, even for taking notes.

"It has made an enormously positive difference to shut those computers off," he said.

Today's college students are a truly wired generation. A study in 2002 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in Washington found that 86 percent of students have gone online, compared with 59 percent of the general population. Although the study did not focus on wireless technology, the authors did delicately predict that "issues readily apparent with the spread of cellphones, such as etiquette and distraction, are likely to emerge as students are able to access the Internet anywhere, including in classrooms."

Dozens of colleges are going wireless, including Dartmouth, Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, the University of California at San Diego and the University of Minnesota.

Continued
1 | 2 | Next>>




TECHNOLOGY; 100 Computers of U.S. Midshipmen Seized  (November 26, 2002)  $

Web Site Fuels Debate on Campus Anti-Semitism  (September 27, 2002)  $

THREATS AND RESPONSES: FOREIGN STUDENTS; Lawmakers Warned of Delay In System to Track Students  (September 25, 2002)  $

National Briefing | Education: Room, Board And Cable  (September 24, 2002) 

Find more results for Computers and the Internet and Colleges and Universities .



Doing research? Search the archive for more than 500,000 articles:




E-Mail This Article
Printer-Friendly Format
Most E-Mailed Articles
Reprints
Single-Page View

Expect the World every morning with home delivery of The New York Times newspaper.
Click Here for 50% off.


Home | Back to Technology | Search | Corrections | Help | Back to Top


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company | Permissions | Privacy Policy
E-Mail This Article
Printer-Friendly Format
Most E-Mailed Articles
Reprints
Single-Page View

Enlarge This Image

Doug Mills/The New York Times
Professors vs. Computers
Professors must fight with technology for students' attention. Prof. Jay Mallek and a student, Brian Betz, exchanging data on wireless laptops at American University.


Recent Articles

Special Report: The Wi-Fi Boom (December 12, 2002)



Topics

 Alerts
Computers and the Internet
Colleges and Universities
Create Your Own | Manage Alerts
Take a Tour
Sign Up for Newsletters






An early computer, the "mechanical mind" developed at MIT, 1927.

Price: $195. Learn More.







The latest Mutual Funds Report is now available at NYTimes.com. The Times takes a look at the dismal third quarter, as well as where things may be headed.
Click here to read the report.