Banning Laptops Is Poor Classroom Management & Is Often About A Professor's Ego

I submitted this to a major education publication about two months ago, but never received a reply. Fed up with the wait, I am posting this here now. I am so sick of the offensively slow timeline for academic publications.

I would have gone through and made changes during the summer as I worked with an editor, but the lack of reply and the emerging school year leaves me with little time now, so I present this in draft form.

Two recent articles about banning laptops in the classroom have led me to a desire to respond. Mary Flanagan's article on InsideHigherEd was, by far, the more interesting article of the two. I Agree with Flanagan that multitasking can "make us poor learners." Also, I share her desire to minimize lecture time in the classroom and that the key in the classroom is making class time valuable.

However, the value needs to come from the students enthusiasm as well. It is not a one way street. Some of my best students are great at multi-tasking; many are not. As an adult coming into a college classroom, students need to make a decision about how to engage with a course. Will you spend your time focused on the course? Will you spend your time focused on class, but also dealing whatever social requirements warrant moments of your time? Or will you spend your time focused on Reddit and Twitter? If you would rather tweet or go on Reddit in my classes, you will just fail them. Plain and simple.

In my experience, laptop bans often end up being more about the professor than the student. Why is a student on Reddit during MY lecture! When students are very distracted, a professor should wonder what they can change to correct this. Sure, this is hard to do on a day to day basis, but consider it. I will often ask the student or students directly how class can be modified so you focus more? They have agency as adult learners to succeed or fail, but they should also have a voice when there is a concern. I try to listen and emphasize with whatever is causing them to be distracted. If they have a good idea for modifying class, I will implement it. At worse, I give them a chance to talk it through or air grievances about their distraction. Many times, the trigger for the distraction is a legitimate life issue.

While I understand the concerns raised in other articles, I think there are other complications to this issue. What if a student has a learning disability, whether documented with a 504 Plan or not? What if the student has writing issues? What if they are an international student more comfortable on a laptop that is familiar to them? Even if they do not have a 504 Plan, how do you know they do not have issues? Why does it matter to YOU if they have a laptop, whether they use it properly or not? Also if documented, you are then singling them out

Further, what if they are just plain distracted? Having a bad day? I hear grown ups talk about having bad days all time. They expect some courtesy for that. This seems to often not be returned to students, but rather with some speech about "the real world" or other nonsense.

I have learning disabilities and severe writing problems. Getting to use a computer as a kid basically saved my education. Despite neurological impairment, poor motor dysfunction, ADD, and hand/eye coordination problems, computers let me succeed. I retain nothing when I write because my hand writing is such garbage that I can never read it later. I can go long form QUICK with a keyboard.

A study in The New Yorker says that “disconnected” students retain information better for quizzes. My experience is the exact opposite. I was never a good test taker to begin with, but being able to organize my notes myself helped by typing them out in a manner that worked for me. If left to writing, I would have failed and there is no way I ever become a college professor if I had not gotten an Apple II as a kid. I am glad my parents never saw some study and, in fact, had teachers fully encouraging and supporting me.

Even more troubling is the professor at Dartmouth who wanted a kill switch for wi-fi. What if there is an emergency? How will students ever grow to make the adults decisions we desire when we treat them like a child? Why can't students be playful and fail at things? Students need CHOICE to pass or fail. If you would rather go on Amazon to look at phones, that is YOUR problem. I make it clear what we will be doing. You are not a child and treating students like one is insulting and offensive.

Banning things also continues to automate society. Students never are allowed to grow, fail, or evolve. How can we expect success? At the end of the day, this is just more fear-mongering about new things. Most students who are distracted do not hurt the class. If you continue to be distracted, that is your fault. Students need the choice to succeed or fail with the tools available to them. Taking away that choice further pushes society into an automated nanny state without agency.

ThatCamp Digital Pedagogy: Digital Story Telling

An interesting session I attended at ThatCamp Digitial Pedagogy was about digital story telling...
• Hyperlink allows readers to make connections authors did not realize
• Collaborative narrative hypertext for classes
• How do we demystify DH for our own publications
• How mobile friendly is your document?
• What about accessibility?
• Twitter cosplay of characters in the classroom
• Storify could help with digital storytelling
• A few of us brought up hypertext fiction like The Unknown
• If you summarize what happens in a hypertext you will get many different answers
• Mentions of IFTTT and Yap

Engaging Learners In The 21st Century: Tweeting Sociology: A Dynamic Approach To Teaching & Leartning

  • Showed how he uses Twitter with classes
  • Some in room don't use Twitter because they thought it was about "gossip"
  • Students reluctant at first, but then engaged on their own with prof and each other (I am sure that process will sound familiar to my students)
  • Tries to engage students in social consciousness via tweets and retweets
  • Need to remember not everyone has smart phone or web at home. Still access issues...which is why i don't require it
  • I have had students tweet their paper thesis. must narrow down until fits 140 characters

A Brief History Of My Blogging

 (as requested by one of my students)

I have been "blogging" in some way since sometime in the nineties. I had a few personal webpages from around 1996 to 1999 on various platforms like Angelfire and and others like it. I had a Livejournal blog from 2001-2002, but I made it private and then deleted it after some very personal posts about mental illness and sexuality got posted to some forums I read and posted on.

In 2004, I began blogging again. A few of my classmates in Scott Rettberg's senior seminar on postmodernism and I decided to begin blogging and encouraged each other to really work on our craft as time went on. One of them stopped that summer, another kept at it for a few years, and mine really took off. I loved over to Typepad sometime in August of 2004 and stayed there for a few years until Moveable Type annoyed me enough to want to try something else.

A big influence on my early blogging was Boing Boing. I spent a lot of the fall of 2004 and spring of 2005 trying to blog at least four times a day with links to interesting stories and commentary. Of course, this did not last very long. After the rise of social media, my blogging slowed down and evolved to be focused on posting about projects I am working on and less about the kind of linking and short discussion that, which I have written about before, has moved to places like Twitter.

I had owned my own web domain since 2002, but beyond a basic homepage I had not done much with it. In late 2005 and early 2006, I installed WordPress on that domain and moved over my posts from Typepad during that winter break. My time on Wordpress was pretty quiet for many years. I taught myself CSS by messing around with a install on a sub domain and actively blogged through 2007 and then slowed down a bit in graduate school and then once I began working until last year.

In the fall of 2012, I went to update my blog one day. I left Wordpress open for a little bit while doing something else, but came back, finished typing the post, and hit submit. I got a blank white screen. After many calls to my fairly unhelpful hosting provider, searches on web forums, and the realization that what could have fixed it wasn't properly being backup in my hosting provider’s backups, which they had just a shrug for me about that, I realized it was time to move. I put this off until the summer of 2013 when I would have time to work on a new domain.

So now this domain is hosted via Squarespace. I really like Squarespace and love the new design I came up with off of this template. Hopefully, this domain is a one stop venue for all of the things I am working on.

Why I Do Not Allow Comments Anymore

Just a note to clarify why comments are closed on my weblog.

A few reasons come to mind. First, as Audrey Watters notes, aggressive and hateful comments are a pain to deal with. I have had some published on previous versions of this weblog, but many I chose not to allow. I have little patience for that nonsense. I have considered turning comments off on Signifying Nothing too because of this (always anonymous too...real "punk" of you to cowardly not use your name).

Second, and more importantly, is the no stop barrage of spam. Any modern CMS should have good filters either built in or available via a plugin, but I cannot be bothered.

Third, I resent how much scripting is involved with comments. I run No Script and always have a real problem trying to get comments to show up if I chose to view them. No thanks.

Finally, this weblog has shifted to being more about statements and/or announcements than discussion. Discussion can be found in email or on Twitter. I just don't think blogs are right for that anymore.

Hacking The Academy: Lessons Learned From 15 Years of Hardcore-Punk Shows About Hacking The Academic Conference

I’m not sure if this is exactly the style they wanted, but here is my contribution for the Hacking The Academy collection. Last week, a CFP went up on Prof Hacker to put together an edited volume of essays in different forms of media about, well, hacking the academy. Among those putting this together is Dan Cohen from Zotero. I decided to write about what attending and promoting hardcore-punk shows for the past 15 years taught me about academic conferences.

Lessons Learned From 15 Years of Hardcore-Punk Shows About Hacking The Academic Conference

A lot of this I’d already deciphered by the time I was 15 years old. I spent my youth attending hardcore punk shows in, primarily, the tri-state and Delaware Valley area. I had a lot of ups and downs in regard to this, but a lot of the experiences, both good and bad, prepared me to “hack” my experience at academic conferences. Like hardcore shows, I only attend a handful of conferences per year. This is due to a variety of concerns: finances, lack of ability to travel, and a strong tendency towards being antisocial keep me at home or on campus most of the time.

I was originally drawn to the digital humanities because it encompassed a lot of the things I wasn’t seeing fully actualized by DIY hardcore. While underground and outside of the mainstream, although that is unfortunately changing, hardcore-punk is often very slow to change and evolve. Fans sneer at new means for communicating, producing and distributing records, and changing attitudes about digital media. The digital humanities are constantly changing and innovating, progressing in new and interesting ways. “Unconferences” like #thatcamp and forward thinking meetings like Digital Humanities 2009 are how I have always envisioned conferences being, but never had seen before. Projects like this one, where a book is compiled over a week, are much more “hardcore” than the ridiculous, conservative, nonsense which passes for it music wise.

When I first began attending conferences about five years ago, I drew from years of attending hardcore shows to make my experience much more interesting and productive. Here are some of the lessons I can offer for “hacking” the academic conference:

  • You don’t have to attend every conference (aka just say no): I go to, maybe, a handful of hardcore shows a year. By December, I have attended around the same amount of conferences. As a teenager and in college I wasted a lot of time, energy, and money going to hardcore shows “just to go,” or because a friend of a friend’s band was playing, and other stupid excuses. As an academic, if I even remotely feel like my attendance at a conference is due to a circumstance like this, I am not going. If the money isn’t there, the schedule is bad, the presentation you want to see is the metaphorical headlining band and you can’t see yourself waiting, just say no.
  • If you don’t go you can still keep in touch: The first half of my senior year of high school, I barely attended any shows because I was working every weekend at a crappy job as a dietician in a nursing home. Back then, 1996, I got caught up on shows and other concerns via IRC. I would wait up until my friends logged on at night and get all of the information I needed about the show. These days, this can be done in near real time via applications like Twitter and FriendFeed. A great example of this was the Twitter stream from Digital Humanities 2009. I did not attend, primarily because of a lack of financial resources, but I was able to follow the conference due to the #dh09 hashtag on Twitter. Many attendees live tweeted the conference, posting notes and comments about the panels they attended. Interested parties, like myself, could not only follow that stream, but offer questions for attendees to ask panelists. I could also comment and interact with those who attended and participated, offering my own thoughts and ideas as the conference progressed. Many new friendships and connections were also formed during this process.
  • People who seem totally cool online can and will be jerks in real life: Attending hardcore shows for years, one of the most heartbreaking things for me was finding out someone in a band or a fanzine editor, or other sort of important scenester was a jerk, sexist, homophobic, etc. I took this personally and often brooded on drives home about how IMPORTANT it was to notice and point out their jerkiness. Eventually, I concluded, not soon enough, that hardcore was just like the real world. There were cool people, there were plenty of jerks, and many were very insincere. A lot of popular scenesters and band members had bloated egos or serious delusions of grandeur. At the Modern Language Association’s annual conference in Philadelphia at the end of 2009, I met a lot of friends who I had known from my weblog, Twitter, and other social media. I also encountered a certain person who is very prominent in the digital humanities. They are someone I have interacted with online and had been a fan of their very popular weblog. After I introduced myself, this person couldn’t have been a bigger, egocentric, asshole to me. Totally dismissive, self important, and uninterested in anything but himself. In the past, I would have been distraught and agonized over this, but now I just shrug it off and move on. Just because someone is an awesome theorist/blogger/podcaster, doesn’t mean they will be a good person. Nor, however, does it take away from their art.
  • Save ephemera: I run a website called Hardcore Show Flyers (and it’s sister website Hardcore Punk Misc) which archives show flyers from the mid to late seventies to a few months from now. I’ve been in the habit of saving flyers, folders, handouts, and other ephemera since I was a child. The first scanner I bought in 2000 allowed let me to begin digitally archiving a lot of what would become the roots of Hardcore Show Flyers. Since becoming involved with attending, and putting on, conferences and symposiums over the years I have saved and scanned a lot of things which I hope one day will be useful or interesting to someone. I’d rather spend the time now and save something, than wish someone else had later.