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Students pay for college, have right to use technology if they please

By Bryan Uhri
On September 26, 2011

 I remember in first grade we had a designated computer hour once a week. We started the Macintosh computers with a floppy disc for each command and eventually were able to play "Frogger" on the monochrome greenish screen. It was the beginning of an era that would change the world.

Soon computers would communicate via the worldwide network of dial-up and corporate connections. Data would soon become free and open to the world, and the compendium of human knowledge would start to gather in online databases.

Douglas Adams would be proud to see his "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" come to life in mobile Internet connections in every pocket and Wikipedia articles accessed by voice. Cell phones can instantly pull up numerous articles of a plant by simply taking a picture of the leaf—this is the future. We are learning more every day, and in an effort to conform to the laws of employment, we must prove ourselves.

College is a product. Just as the Billy Mays fantastic thing-a-ma-bob, you can buy it. You have to buy it in fact. Good luck finding a free and accredited college to attend in this country. We are the customers of the service being rendered. It is we who make the sacrifice of time to qualify, and we are the ones who should be making a larger number of the rules, and there is one that I can't stand.

The pitter-patter of typing keys does little to distract me. I have taken courses at two colleges and myriad other educational institutions, and there is one thing in common: Laptops on desks and cell phones in hand. Does it bother you? Honestly, fellow students, I want to know.

If I text a friend, a loved one, or a clown in Denmark for crying out loud does it really distract you? It doesn't bother me in the least if you watch videos while I'm listening to a lecture, given the sound is off.

I completely understand the worry of distracted students and how it can draw from the educational experience when no one is paying attention, but students shouldn't be punished because they aren't paying attention. I have never failed a class due to YouTube or Facebook, but I have done poorly because of my own lack of motivation in a class.

The rules of our agreement state I must attend your class in order to receive a grade, employment and job. Rest assured I won't be leaving for a pina colada mid-afternoon instead of attending communication theory, but that doesn't mean if the conversation turns to something a million miles from the subject that I won't be a million miles away online.

With so much technology at our fingertips, is it really a wonder that bits and bytes are overrunning classrooms? Personally, I use my devices for taking notes most of the time or looking up a term or idea online in search of a better explanation. My notes synchronize via a data connection and can be accessed anytime and anywhere, so I can study when needed. If students can learn to use these tools effectively, then I feel that the hate for desktop technology needs to stop.

My point isn't that we should all start breaking out our phones and making calls in class, but we should at least have the right to non-intrusive communication. For example, sending a text in my lap or using my tablet to read the headlines doesn't interfere with an instructor's teaching style or distract other students. Give students the universal right to use tech, and see if there is a drop in grades or not. I know how I will place my bet.

So as you adventure out and begin a technological revolution, I recommend a few simple weapons of choice that have helped me immensely in school. It could be for taking notes, recording class, sending a class project or emailing grandma. Either way, here is my toolbox.

1. Smart phone

The wealth of human knowledge is voice command away. I use mine for looking up plant species, philosophers and, most recently, a study guide and the definition of terms 15 minutes before an exam. I can even make a phone call.

2. Tablet

As an online editor I need a bit more screen space on occasion, and this thing does the trick. I prefer Android, but suite your fancy and purchase according to your personal application. I use mine for email, quick online review, edits and even a bit of gaming on occasion, but that's not all. I can take pictures of PowerPoints and handouts, instantly making them accessible for study. I can also make last minute edits to an assignment before emailing it to a professor.

3. Laptop computer

I don't bring it every day, but when it comes to making graphics or creating a PowerPoint about o-my-meiosis, I like to be prepared. I also use mine for writing papers longer than a few paragraphs and for a bit of entertainment. Laptops come in all shapes and sizes so get one that will suite your budget and needs but get the basic features of a CD-ROM drive and webcam. They may seem like simple accessories, but they can be indispensable at times.

4. Flash Drive (with PortableApps)

This mobile installation of software keeps me prepared in the event of a personal equipment malfunction. Combined with I have everything I need to edit a term paper or photo for print. I can edit audio or check my personal e-mail via a private browser, and the software is completely free. With those items in my messenger bag, I am unstoppable, with the exception of my respect for syllabuses and teacher requests.

I want to specify something before closing. I am not suggesting the blatant disregard for instructional request but simply advocating the use of electronic medium in classrooms for better understanding for students by utilization of personal methods.

If you have a teacher you feel is intolerant of your tech, then there is one thing that always helps: Communication. Talk to your professor and understand where he or she is coming from. I had one explain to the class his stance and, while I may not agree, I can respect him for at least giving a descent explanation.  

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