Dear Professors at NYU: You may have noticed, each year, that more and more students are bringing their laptops, iPads, iPhones, etc. to class and placing them on their desks during your lecture. Some of you ban them, which may make sense, since you recognize that to receive 100% of our attention we must be forced into the Stone Age.
Most of you allow them recognizing that we prefer to type notes and access course documents on our screens. However, many of you are clearly uncomfortable with this digital reality and often throw in remarks asking or begging us to put down our screens for a minute during a guest speaker or a film you are showing.
While I agree with you that digitally procrastinating during class is wrong, grade us on the quality of our work that we submit and don’t assume our “multi-tasking” during class is a negative thing that is taking away from our learning. Facebook in particular now accounts for “25% of all U.S. Page Views” on the Internet. You shouldn’t try to fight our in-class Internet usage. You should try to adapt your teaching methods to the way we now learn in the digital age. Here are three suggestions for embracing Facebook and Google, instead of fighting them.
1. Incentivize us to Facebook during class — We like to compete on the Internet, either for points (like Foursquare) or for attention in our social spheres (liking, comments, posting to walls, pictures). You could structure the class with a Facebook group suggesting that we post articles related to the topic of the class on the group’s wall. At the end of each class, the student’s whose post receives the most “likes” will get something – not necessarily grade-related, but cool, like a candy bar (yes we like being treated like sophisticated six year olds).
2. Post lots of short-form content to the group before class – For those students that don’t like speaking up, if you give them brief snippets of content (pictures, articles) they can engage with the Internet while still listening to you. Give them a legitimate reason to stay away from a funky looking menorah that there friends are commenting on that have nothing to do with the class.
3. Post your notes to Google Docs before each class — Recognize that it’s time to ignore Blackboard completely. In 2012. when NYU goes Google, this will be easier, but you don’t need to wait. We use Google Docs and we use Google Groups, so before the semester begins, create a Google Group for the class, force everyone to join it, and email us and post updates through this group. Additionally, invite us all into a shared Google Doc folder where you can drop all those documents you’ve spent time scanning and PDFing. Google will have enough storage space, I promise. Have your notes for the class up in Google Doc form where we can all login and comment or chat on the notes you’ve decided to share. Wouldn’t you rather us chat about your class then drift off to Gchat or Facebook chat?
I know you are probably thinking that you are only incentivizing us to ADD even more. This is not true. If you are not at least trying out these different options in some capacity (if not fully) and are simply dismissing our digital habits as pure distraction, than you are failing to understand how we learn in the digital era. If you’re unsure how to use these tools, turn to the nearest student and ask them to show you.