I’ve noticed over the past few years as electronic devices become more prevalent in our society, that students are now bringing the devices to the classroom, particularly laptop computers and smart phones. Most times these devices are welcomed into the class as professors incorporate online materials into the traditional classroom lecture. The devices are viewed as great tools to assist the instructor as well as the student, through downloading online lecture notes, videos, problem sets and the like. The electronic devices are also filled with many apps that do not pertain to the current topic taught in the classroom, however, so in addition to their use in the learning environment the devices may also present distractions to the student, and student behavior while using electronic devices can be distracting to the instructor and to other students. As we start a new year at the University, it seems appropriate to mention expectations and etiquette for electronic devices and student behavior in the classroom.
1. Students who attend lecture should be prepared to focus on the material presented by the instructor. Many students don’t know that faculty spend countless hours outside the classroom discussing curriculum, teaching methods, and student performance. We take your education very seriously, and we expect that you will too.
2. Cell phones should be turned off during lectures. Unless your instructor has a specific use for smart phones in the classroom, I can think of no reason why a student should have a cell phone in the class. I’ve observed students texting, checking email, visiting social media sites, watching videos, and listening to music during lectures. If you are doing these things with your smart phone, then you are not focusing on the professor. It is also very distracting to the professor to observe that students are more interested in looking/listening/responding to whatever is on their phone than they are in the class discussion. In my own class, I’ve observed students receive phone calls during class, and rather than turn off the phone, the student answered the call while exiting the lecture hall. In case you are unaware, these behaviors are rude. They distract the entire class from focusing on the lecture. Turn off your phone before entering the classroom.
3. Attend class. In my experience at NC State University, students who regularly skip class do not do well in their courses. There are approximately 35 hours of lecture time scheduled during a semester for a three credit lecture course. Two to three of those hours will be dedicated to examinations, so students can expect ~32-33 hours of lectures by an instructor. At our current tuition rate of ~$700 for a three credit course, the student pays approximately $22 for each hour of lecture ($700/32hours), not including extra fees added to tuition payments by the university. In addition, NC State University is a state institution, so the citizens of North Carolina subsidize college education through their tax dollars. One should note that the tuition is paid before the start of the semester, so one assumes that students will attend ALL classes since they are paid up front. If you think that you can skip many of your classes, learn the material on your own, AND have a successful career at university, then you are mistaken. If you are the type of student who can skip class, only take the exams, and make an A in the class, then you are very, very rare. But, guess what? You are being rude by not attending class. Some day you will need recommendation letters for your future endeavors, and then you will learn that the boorish behavior has consequences.
4. Be on time for class and plan to stay until the lecture ends. Whether the class is held in a large lecture hall or in a small conference room, students who come to class late, or who leave class early, are distracting to the instructor and to other students. If you are unaware, perpetual tardiness and exiting class during a lecture is rude. If you can’t be on time to class or if you have to leave class early, then you should discuss the situation with your professor before the class. Don’t be surprised if your professor locks the door a few minutes after class starts to prevent late arrivals.
5. Laptop computers. Some instructors require students to use laptops during class, while some instructors prohibit the use of all electronic devices. A few instructors use a middle ground where they tolerate laptop computers in the classroom. If you use a laptop computer in the classroom, then you should use it only for materials pertinent to the course. Students are tempted to engage in social media while in class. Although this behavior on a laptop computer is less disruptive than similar behavior on a smart phone, the student can not focus on the course material while simultaneously engaging in other topics online. In my opinion, there is little difference between students who regularly skip class and students who spend most of their lecture time participating in other online activities.
As noted above, faculty spend many hours developing curricula because we want students to be successful in their endeavors upon graduating. This is our job. We take your education very seriously, and we expect you to as well. If you don’t want to be here, then don’t be here. You were accepted to the university while other students were not, and one can assume that they want to be here but don’t have the chance. Faculty assume that you are here because you want to be here. If this is true, then attend lectures and be present and open to learning. Engage in discussions with faculty and fellow students, ask questions during class, attend office hours, and learn the material.
As I explain to my students, some of whom also work outside jobs while attending university, if I were to visit their place of employment and act rude to them or their fellow employees, then I would expect them to say something to me about my behavior. If you behave in class as I’ve described here, then don’t be surprised if your instructor says something to you about your behavior.