Those Dang Kids and Their Phones, Computers and iPads.

Some my students use computers in my lectures and, while I’m sure that a number of them are writing notes or looking at the notes, I’m sure that many are ‘multi-tasking’ with social media or the like. They’re not playing games, because I know what they looks and sounds like (wwwwwwwddaaaaa*click**click*wwww *DAMN*) but these mobile platforms are more powerful and more pervasive so this will happen a lot. Now, despite the presence of computers, I can usually get the students with gadgets to participate, answer questions and do all of those good things. If I have a question, I don’t have to repeat the previous 5 minutes of speaking to get an answer. They’re mostly listening. But, whenever the gadgets are out, there’s always a worry that those dang kids are surfing the internet rather than listening to you.

Now, I’m sure that some of you have very strong opinions about this. Why do students do this given they’ve bothered to show up?

I have, in recent experience, attended meetings which had an obligatory nature to them and, among my colleagues, seen a lot of iPads, notebooks, laptops and phones in use during these meetings. Now you’d expect that someone would be most active on this mobile reference and presentation platform when it was their turn to talk or be talked to, but generally it seemed to be when the person in question wasn’t required to do anything. In fact, these gadgets get the most workout when the person holding them hasn’t done anything in the meeting nor is expected to. Armed with a gadget, these people (who may have been colleagues) had tuned out because the major reason that they were in the meeting was because someone had told them that they had to be. If they didn’t have gadgets they’d probably be sleeping (quietly), doodling or talking to the person next to them.

Every time someone complains about students who focus on the gadgets rather than the lecture, I think about those meetings where I’ve checked my mail during a dull patch in a meeting. Or done some other (useful and real) work that had nothing to do with the event that I was in.

I know, I’m a terrible human being with a short atten… what? But the thing is, give me a reason that I should be somewhere and a reason to participate, interact and listen? I’ll be there, armed with my knowledge and my supporting fleet of tech. THEN, the gadgets are only used as they should be. I don’t doodle. I stay focused. No doubt everyone reading this has a better attention span than I do and has never, ever been bored in a compulsory meeting on new OH&S standards for refrigerator cleanliness or has tuned out while trying to listen to someone reading tiny-font info-dense slides to you, regarding new research standards.


We want our students to be like us. In many ways they already are. Yes, some students are very hard to engage but, for most of them, if they have a reason to be there and a reason to listen and take part, chances are they will.

One Comment on “Those Dang Kids and Their Phones, Computers and iPads.”

  1. billb says:

    We team teach our courses, and one day I happen to sit in my colleague’s lecture. I sat in the back an observed while one of the students watched an eastern European soccer match stream to his laptop. Nobody in front of him in the class, including the instructor, was the wiser. 🙂


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