Classroom distraction: Your fault or your neighbor’s?

Should a university allow students unlimited access to the Internet on its network?

This is a question I ask myself every time I’m sitting in class and people around me pull out their laptops and log in to Facebook, Myspace, and other social sites. I certainly can’t count myself out of that part of the population, but that’s why I make it a point to not bring my laptop to class – the temptation is too great.

I think the backlash to a network firewall on social Web sites on my campus would be huge, with students who don’t usually share opinions coming together in outrage over the thought of limited internet access. But with many workplaces instituting firewalls and filters on the computers of their employees, is this really that different?

Last spring I took a class with a professor who did not allow laptops. On the first day of class everyone pulled out their laptops, logged into their sites, and settled in for class. When Professor Baughman started lecture, he told everyone to put their computers away. Bewildered, everyone reluctantly packed up their things, and many had to ask for paper and pens from others around them.

But you know what? I paid better attention in that class than I have in others where I had the option to distract myself on the Internet. I know that rule wouldn’t work in all lecture settings, especially when the hall is so big it’s impossible to keep track of everyone. But it worked with that class, and not one person in my discussion had a problem with participation, since we all had nothing to pay attention to but the professor.

I know that I am responsible for my ability to learn in the classroom, and I can’t speak for anyone else – but should we have the right to bring distractions into the classroom? Is it really that different from someone talking on the phone or whispering with a friend? What’s your take on classroom distractions – do you think it would be out of line to limit access to certain Web sites, or would it help you focus better, knowing there’s nothing to pay attention to besides your professor? And is that a violation of civil rights, maybe First Amendment law?

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