This year I decided to take a slightly harder line than in past years about computers, cell phones, and other things that my parents categories as TTLUs (Things That Light Up). In the first class, I told my students that I was going to ask them to print out all of the readings (as small as they wanted) and not to use their computers or other TTLUs in class unless there was a specific learning-related reason that they needed to do so. I also told them that if anyone had financial problems with the printing or book buying requirements they should see me.
They shrugged and nodded, which was pretty much what they do for most of what we say on the first day.
One student came to talk to me after class. He explained that he is very involved in sustainable living projects and that he felt strongly enough about not wanting to be printing out copies that if I said absolutely no computer, he would drop the course and find another. He was very articulate.
It helped that it’s already a dilemma I’ve thought about in terms of my own printing habits. Cost is one thing, of course, but once I accepted that this was part of being in graduate school (paying for ink and paper), the other hurdle was the quantity of paper. I have a lot of it. I have trouble getting rid of handouts and readings from classes I’ve taken because it seems so wasteful to have printed them out and then just discard them. I have a lot of paper I don’t need.
Pedagogically, though, I knew I had something in mind in asking students to keep their TTLUs off and away. So, after another conversation with a friend about the subject, I went back to class the next day with a plan.
I explained why I don’t like TTLUs. (1) The upright screens of computers separate you physically from the rest of the class. (2) Having a device distracts you from the discussion in many ways (taking notes that are more like transcriptions than notes, absorbing interest simply because they are transfixing, presenting the possibility of completing other tasks while in class without it being obvious).
I offered the class a compromise. They can have computers for taking notes if they promise to try to write down only key words and they keep the screen either really far open or closed down over their fingers. They can have computers and other TTLUs for reading the pdfs for class if they keep the computers open wide (as flat as possible) or the TTLUs flat on the desk. And it’s fine if they want to team up and print one copy every two people and share, instead of each printing the reading.
Today in class: one student typing very occasionally with the screen over his fingers, looking up, and following the conversation; two students with the text on their screens open all the way, who could lean over to read from the text or find a quote but who were otherwise focused outward toward the discussion.
I’ll remind them all of this bargain later this week (I still have students shifting in and out of the class, so possibly three more class sessions with new students). We might have to return to the topic mid-semester, like I’ve had to do with many topics. It’s early in the semester, though, and I’m still optimistic. I pronounce this a proto-success.