Blog: The Educated Reporter

Getting Colleges Students to Turn Off and Tune In

College students don’t need expensive big-ticket items to be successful academically, according to the Boston Globe’s online news site, which recently ran a list of seven unnecessary items courtesy of Kiplinger’s.

The list included a car, a high-powered computer (unless the student’s major demanded it) and signing up for the dining hall’s full meal plan.

Having spent the past year at the University of Michigan auditing classes as a Knight-Wallace Fellow, I’d like to add something else– Internet access in the lecture halls.

I’ve listened to some brilliant professors talk about everything from the fight between Horace Mann and the Boston Masters to how subcultures of dissent are appropriated by advertisers and sold to the masses. From my vantage point in the higher rows, I often saw dozens of “real” students with their laptops open and linked to shopping websites or video games. (I’m fairly certain that students at other colleges and universities are engaging in similar in-class distractions, and I mean no offense to the U of M: Go Blue!)

I resisted the temptation to be the crotchety killjoy in the room and suggest my younger classmates refocus on the lectures that were probably costing their parents upward of $30,000.

Had there been widespread Internet usage during my college days (Al Gore had just invented it way back then, so it was still catching on), I’m not sure how well I would have fared academically. There were already enough distractions – theater productions, the debate team and participating in campus government.

I recall one particularly depressing situation involving a sophomore in my dorm who became hooked on an online game known as MUD, or Multiple User Dimension. This was an era when we paid for online time by the minute via a dial-up telephone line. Her parents drove to collect her after receiving a phone bill for many thousands of dollars.

I remember at the time being befuddled that a young woman could spend so many hours alone in her room, staring at a screen, lost in a world with strangers when there was so much life waiting for her just outside her dorm door. Today, of course, it seems all too normal.

I’ve talked to professors who say they are in favor of putting up technology blockers in classrooms to prevent web surfing, while some say students should be expected to police themselves. After all, that’s what college is about – making choices and accepting the consequences. That’s probably the right attitude. We’ll have to hope college students today realize how much tighter a job market they’ll find if they choose to major in “Angry Birds.”