Harvard University junior Hemi Gandhi calls it the Facebook Index. The phrase describes what he has found to be a “widely-accepted phenomenon” at Harvard: Students obsessively checking Facebook, news sites, and their email during class.
“The degree of Internet browsing . . . varies widely from class to class, and from student to student,” Gandhi writes in a new piece for The Harvard Crimson. “However, by and large, Facebook during class has become so ubiquitous that no one even questions it. Students and professors seem to accept this as a routine part of Harvard life.”
What are the root causes of this routine, one that certainly stretches to college classes far beyond Harvard’s ivy-covered campus?
Above all else, it can be traced to the current generation’s general entanglement with tech tools and apps. As a report in The State Press, the campus newspaper at Arizona State University, noted last year, “According to students, the combination of schoolwork, information gathering and personal communication has pushed cell phones and Internet to become basic necessities for college students.”
A growing multitasking mentality has also implanted itself among young adults, leaving classes ripe for the type of new media intrusions that are also happening everywhere else.
Harvard peers told him they are most likely to check Facebook during a class session when “[a] professor starts regurgitating exactly what they’ve read in the textbook
Students’ online stop-and-check habits have apparently become so pervasive some don’t even realize they are doing it.
For example, during a recent investigation of social networking addiction, South End staff writer Megan Krueger stumbled onto a student at Wayne State University “who had books and notes laid out on her desk, but her attention was not on the books.
Instead, she was sifting through her Twitter home page, which was continuously refreshed. I inquired about her choice of study habits, but she replied, ‘I’m sorry. I would like to talk to you but I’m actually busy studying for a big exam.’”
While at times simply using social media as a distraction, students are also purposefully turning to the services more regularly to help their grades. A study cited in a new Chronicle of Higher Education report confirms, “One out of four students . . . say they think Facebook is ‘valuable’ or ‘extremely valuable’ to their academic success.”
In his Crimson article, Gandhi links students’ in-class Facebooking most directly to the quality of the classes themselves and students’ desire to make the most of their time.
In an informal sampling, his Harvard peers told him they are most likely to check Facebook during a class session when “[a] professor starts regurgitating exactly what they’ve read in the textbook; paying attention won’t clarify confusion; [and] a professor starts on a random tangent that is neither interesting nor relevant.”
In Gandhi’s words, “Harvard students are generally pragmatic and hyper-concerned about maximizing their Return On Time Investment. During class, students will give their attention to whatever they think will give them the most utility in each moment. Past generations of students must also have wanted to maximize their ROTI during class. But technological innovation has provided today’s students with more options to do so in real time, via their smartphones and laptops.”
What do you think? Are students at your school always on Facebook during class? What are professors’ thoughts about the phenomenon?
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