Thursday, October 27, 2011

The lost ink pen

A student walked into class last week and did not have a pen for the exam. I mentally rolled my eyes and began the internal dialogue, "How do you come to class without a pen? I would never go to class unprepared. Why, I remember my time at Purdue and..." I think we have all experienced a similar moment of comparison and slight frustration.

The pen versus the keypad?
Later, I went to a meeting, grabbing my trusty iPad. This semester (I got my university-issued iPad in late June), you can find me in any meeting diligently typing notes, emailing action items, and feeling very proud of my productivity with this new device. I photo-scan the documents for the meeting or save them in my dropbox and so carrying files has become unnecessary. I felt very prepared for the meeting and very on-top of the agenda. In fact, I rather smirked at the paper copies of a handout and wondered when we would all use the technology that had improved my life so much. Quite pleased with my efforts during a busy term, I sat anticipating the start of the meeting. When the sign in sheet came to me I paused awkwardly and had to ask the person next to me for a pen! I had everything I needed in my iPad and forgot a writing utensil. I felt myself blush and hurriedly scribble my name.
My new companion to every meeting

Then, I (mentally) apologized to that student (who had received a mental eye-roll) earlier in the week. How can I become frustrated for something for which I am now equally guilty? 

I love technology. I love the accessibility it gives my students and the way it eases my workload so I can communicate and contribute from a distance. It makes me more productive (generally).  And it is changing the way we do many things in higher education. While many of us are expecting these big changes to continue to wash over us, we may not be on the lookout for the small changes in our students and ourselves.

In class yesterday, I said "refer to the textbook" and prepared for the onslaught of, "but I don't have my text!" I was pleasantly surprised to see many of the students pull out mobile devices, tablets, laptops, netbooks and pull up the e-book. It was a great moment. Of course, I then tweeted about it.

So before we judge the student for texting, let's reflect on the last meeting we sat through and how many professors had out their mobile phones, took a call, took notes on it, texted, or emailed. 

So often we (professors) are concerned about the distractions of our students' technology items (status updates, IM-ing, texting, and generally not paying attention) and are reminiscing about the way things used to be that we can easily forget two things: 1) the things we may get frustrated about are likely the same things we are starting to do, and 2) there are many benefits of those same devices on our classroom environment.

Yes, we should still use technology politely and attentively when in a meeting or classroom. But, honestly, I can take notes faster on my iPad or Blackberry, email them or save them, and accomplish work faster during the meeting that would otherwise suck all of my time once the meeting ended. Should I fault my students for doing the same thing? They are using their e-calendars, their reminder-apps, their e-books, and yes, on occasion updating their social media. But before we suggest that students "put away the phones" we might want to consider the role those devices play in our learning environment--especially for our younger students who may feel more natural touching a key pad than holding an ink pen.

Don't forget, you can "like" Communication and Higher Education Blog on Facebook:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lora,

    Thank you for your post. I can identify with it wholeheartedly. Many of my students ask to use my ink pen when they enter the classroom in order to sign the attendance roster. I always make a comment about all "professional college students" should bring writing materials to class. In addition, I think about the health issues and how we need to consider handwashing. With that I think of the many germs carried on an ink pen. By the look on my student's faces I at times feel I'm being ridiculous. Thanks for sharing.