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Lecture Hall Back-Channeling 297

emmastory writes "The New York Times is running a story on the phenomenon of lecture hall back-channeling - now that many conferences and universities have wireless access, some people discuss lectures via instant message or weblog as they happen. Although the article quotes an instructor at NYU, I haven't seen much of this in lectures I've attended there. I would guess it varies from department to department, but laptops aren't yet as common in classes as one might think. Either way, some people consider the practice rude, others consider it progress, and good arguments can be made on either side."
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Lecture Hall Back-Channeling

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  • Somebody get to work (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TopShelf ( 92521 ) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:08AM (#6521793) Homepage Journal
    One upside that can result from this is a refinement in questions that get asked of the speaker at the end of a presentation. Obvious ones can be resolved within the back-channelers, while insightful ones could rise to the top.

    Heck, someone should develop a wireless /-style solution to accept potential questions and have the back-channelers rate them during the lecture, a la /. Interviews. For larger speeches where the number of attendees is high and the time for Q&A is limited, this could greatly improve the quality of the session...
    • Distracting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DrWho520 ( 655973 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:14AM (#6521885) Journal
      While listening to lectures, I generally take extensive notes to keep my mind on the lecture topic and attention on the lecturer. Something like this would just be too distracting.

      And really, like people are only going to chat about the lecture. Everybody I knew with a laptop in class was playing Quake.
      • What is the sound of 1000 freshmen failing?

        Clickety-click-click-click-tap-tappety-click-tap tap-click-click-click... :)

        The best lecturers will factor time into their lectures for questions and interruptions on difficult points or particularly relevant tangents. Lectures are intended not only to impart knowledge but to solicit interaction from the class, engender debate, encourage learning from peers and to allow interaction with the material.

        • It really depends entirely on the method of delivery. I've had a few classes with an outstanding professore here who makes every effort to tailor his lectures to the students he's teaching. He has won several awards for his methods of pedagogy (sp). Like anything else, the addition of laptops to the classroom is a tool which can be abused, misuesd, or manage to become very benificial.

          If implimented correctly, all that clickety-tatp-tap-tappety could be no more distracting then the sound of pens scratching across the paper and calculator buttons being jammed to the contact pad.

          I still can't shake the image I have of the first laptop I saw in a class... The guy was looking at porno on the second row of a C programming class on his new dell. After a little while, and due to several laughs from those behind him, the professor came over and walked up behind him.

          After that, the embarresd student was given the task of being the note monkey at the front of the class for the slides. The proff never let him live it down. I don't think that kid will ever look at porno again without remembering the look on the professors face. :)

          No, the kid was not me...
        • One of my Computer Science Professor used to anonymously instant message his missing students during lecture. It was pretty easy for him because all the students were assigned a class unix account with a common prefix. He used to ask general questions about the class, the professor, and then he would always finish with a clincher by asking "How come you're not in class right now?"
    • Maybe the students wouldn't have so many questions if they actually listened and instead of posting questions and rating others. If you want to discuss the lecture with people, wait until after it is finished.
      • by Jucius Maximus ( 229128 ) <m4encxb2sw@snkma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:27PM (#6522740) Journal
        "Maybe the students wouldn't have so many questions if they actually listened and instead of posting questions and rating others."

        Professors are not perfect people and what seems like totally obvious common sense to them may not come so easily to those who are learning it the first time.

        Even if you listen intently, you won't understand everything all the time. This is why gaining a quick consensus on what was least understood while the professor is discussing it is important.

        "If you want to discuss the lecture with people, wait until after it is finished"

        If you wait until after the lecture, everything after the point where you did not understand will be gibberish in your brain. Then you have to find out about that one tiny thing, then you have to go back over the rest of the lecture to deduce what it means when the professor is not there. If you don't get to this by the start next lecture, then you'll be lost for that class too.

        • If you wait until after the lecture, everything after the point where you did not understand will be gibberish in your brain.

          Yeah...that's why I took notes in class. It's not that hard to just write down what somebody's saying, even if you don't understand it. I would put *'s in the section where I got lost, transcribe the rest of the lecture, then in post-processing with my study pals, would get over the hurdle, and voila my notes made sense. In fact, I would go so far as to say that getting lost and
    • by altp ( 108775 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:17AM (#6521931) Homepage
      This suggestion could also help the problem where people are afraid to ask questions alloud. If the system allows for anonymous questions and votes, basic concepts that students are having trouble grasping can be addressed again, that were previously being over looked by teachers until test time.
      • I know this is a really geeky website and we have to sex everything up with computers but there's on need for computers or wireless networks to as a goddamn question.

        Have a teacher have an anonymous question drop box that he can look over and address a few of them the next lecture or at the end of the lecture.

        Gadgets in lectures will only distract you.
        • by jandrese ( 485 ) * <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:07PM (#6522526) Homepage Journal
          Those drop boxes don't work. It's a lottery to see if your question gets answered and by the time the teacher reads it and responds, you are already way beyond that part in the lesson.

          One thing that is important to remember is that most knowledge builds off of preexisting knowledge. If you fail to understand something early in the lesson, you could end up missing large amounts of material as the lesson progresses. That is why it is so bad when the student has to go back to the teacher afterwords to get a clarification on something taught earlier in the day. By the time they get the help they need, they're going to redo half of the lesson to catch up. Most professors and TAs don't have enough time to reteach entire lessons to the dozen students who didn't get it the first time.

          The usual solution is for the student to ask the teacher to stop and clarify, but that is a tremendous time sink for someone who only has three hours a week to impart his knowledge. Once a class size becomes large enough, this solution becomes completely unworkable, and some students are left out in the cold. If used in moderation, these backchannels would be a great boon to most classes. IMHO
    • by slulovic ( 636452 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:11PM (#6522556)
      There's a project currently going on at UC San Diego, which is aiming for something similar to that. The main webpage for the project, ActiveCampus, is located here [].

      I took a class a few quarters ago when this project first got started. Students could log into discussions about the lecture they were attending and post questions and answer others' posts. Other students could vote for posted questions so the professor would know which were most relevant. Information (and screenshots) for this can be found here [].

      My experience with this was not very positive. For the most part, the professor would halt his lectures every few minutes to check out what the students were concerned with. It seemed more a hindrance than a tool. Maybe if a TA was assigned to attend lectures and monitor the online discussions so the professor didn't have to, the system would work out better. Also, perhaps because it was new at the time and perhaps becuase it was a CS class, the questions students posted gradually declined into flames and/or trolls.

      Its an interesting concept, but I don't know if colleges are ready for it.
  • Google link (no reg) (Score:5, Informative)

    by Patik ( 584959 ) * <cpatik AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:08AM (#6521797) Homepage Journal
    Link []

    • PowerPoint (Score:3, Funny)

      by TheMidget ( 512188 )

      As the speakers ran through their PowerPoint presentations, the room hummed with the tip-tap of IM chatter.

      Let's see, there is another use for these laptops: blue screen the speaker's Windows box, or better, change its desktop background to somethin, uhmmm, more interesting. Should teach him to use Powerpoint!

      Also useful if the speaker accidentally types passwords in the wrong field (visible) during a demo: now you can make use of these passwords during the lecture, before the speaker has a change to c

  • by phr00tcake ( 241992 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:10AM (#6521826)
    academic integrity is their reasoning behind it. Of course all my friends sharing answers through SMS have no complaints...
    • academic integrity is their reasoning behind it. Of course all my friends sharing answers through SMS have no complaints...

      I'm reading this to say that WiFi would enable you to pass answers to each other using laptops, so I'm assuming that some of you have laptops during tests or some other evaluated part of the education. In that case, has the school considered the possibility of students using laptops with buildt in WiFi in ad-hoc mode? And what would they do about it (assuming that the students are n

  • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:10AM (#6521834)
    Not that anuone ever thought of pasing a note around in class, back in the pre-IM dark ages.
    • by rusty0101 ( 565565 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:38AM (#6522220) Homepage Journal
      The fact that the school will not install WiFi should not limit the students. Simply set the WiFi card to ad-hoc rather than structured, and use the 169.254.x.x/16 address space (Windows and some linux dhcp clients will configure for this if they do not find a dhcp server) and start communicating.

      If you really need access to the Internet in class, a single ethernet-WiFi bridge should connect anyone in the classroom if both a ethernet and power jack are close enough or in the room.

  • by Patik ( 584959 ) * <cpatik AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:10AM (#6521836) Homepage Journal
    Here at RPI [], where laptops have been required [] for five years now and ethernet/wireless is readily available, there is a lot of in-lecture IMing and conversation -- but none of it really pertains to the lecture. Most students who do this are too busy doing personal browsing and conversing to pay attention to the lecture.

    • *lecture*? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:27AM (#6522074)

      I've heard some fairly good arguments to suggest that the lecture itself is a mediaeval form of presenting information and is now out of date as a way of transforming knowledge. What do students gain by sitting listening to the great master spout his wisdom?

      Several lecturers I know have moved to providing their "lecture" online (e.g. hypertext document) and use the allocated lecture time for a follow up workshop, requiring the students to have already read and considered the "lecture" and to come along with some sort of academic response. Seems a far more effective use of teaching time to me, far more likely to be of value to students.

      • by Vagary ( 21383 ) <jawarren AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:41AM (#6522242) Journal

        That's been part of the teaching style of the humanities for a long time now: go read this paper or book by some smart dead dude (readings), then I'll tell you what I think about it (lecture), then we can discuss (tutorial).

        It's pretty obvious that a lecture can be converted to a meta-reading and put online, but the big question right now is whether tutorials can also be as effective online. Of course, never underestimate a university student's desire to be passive: many would rather snooze through a two-hour lecture than spend that time reading. And tutorials at anything below an advanced level are pretty dismal, at least at my alma matter: two students team up with the professor to mock the one student who will actually voice a minority opinion, while the rest snooze.

        If the Internet can fix any of this, I'm all for it.

      • Re: *lecture*? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gidds ( 56397 ) <slashdot AT gidds DOT me DOT uk> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:52AM (#6522373) Homepage
        It probably depends on the lecturer. If he/she is simply going to dictate or write up his/her notes, with no comments or thought, then an online presentation will probably be more useful. However, some lecturers work things out as they go, and it can be very useful to see their thought processes (especially if they make mistakes!). Some are very interactive, gearing what they present to the reaction they get. Some explain far more out loud than ends up on the boards/notes. And a few (very few) are simply good presenters, who are worth watching simply for interest or enjoyment. All of these would lose something in the transition to a web site.
        • Re: *lecture*? (Score:2, Interesting)

          by webguru4god ( 537138 ) *
          I agree, it really depends on who is lecturing, and how engaging they want to be. I've had some professors who are really boring, and I have to try my hardest to concentrate and not fall asleep. But I have had a few professors who work hard to engage the class and pose thought provoking questions, while making the material entertaining. A specific example I remember is my Physics 1 professor coming wearing a rubber Einstein mask to lecture on relativity, complete with a fake German accent. The entire class
      • The reality is that technology will cange the way we learn stuff. The problem is that there are so many people entrenched (dependant) on the old way that the paridigm shift will be fought tooth and nail. Physically going to a classroom (school at all for that matter) is a waste of time and money for students. If someone built a colaborative learning tool (or used one of the many available tools) I'm confiden that we could develop an educational system that would develop knowledge much more efficiently.
      • Re:*lecture*? (Score:2, Interesting)

        reading the material to be presented on prior to the lecture isn't a new idea. classes have been doing it for ages.

        what do students gain by listening to a lecture? they gain reinforcement of the crap they're going to be tested on. learning works best by seeing, hearing and doing. read the chapters, listen to the lectures, and do the lab work. it's amzaing how easy it is to pull off A's when that formula is followed.
      • Re:*lecture*? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Jucius Maximus ( 229128 ) <m4encxb2sw@snkma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:21PM (#6522674) Journal
        "Several lecturers I know have moved to providing their "lecture" online (e.g. hypertext document) and use the allocated lecture time for a follow up workshop, requiring the students to have already read and considered the "lecture" and to come along with some sort of academic response. Seems a far more effective use of teaching time to me, far more likely to be of value to students."

        Agreed. I took a chemistry course like this several years ago. This course had reputation for being extremely difficult and you heard scary stories about it around the lunchroom table. The people who actually did the work before the lecture (including myself) did reasonably well (70-90%, and 80+ was a flippin' good mark for that class.) The people who fell behind on the readings were in a pit too deep to possibly climb out. They dropped, failed or barely squeaked by.

        Of all the courses I have ever taken for anything, I think this chem one was the one where I learned the most. I liked the format because it really causes the information to stick in your head. Also, it weeds out the people who are not committed and really forces everyone else to actually learn. Four years later I was helping my brother learn the same stuff and I could correct or guide him on the material from memory because I remembered it.

      • Hoo boy, be careful. I can tell you right now, in Quantum Chemistry, Statistical Mechanics, Spectroscopy, &c., the lecture ain't dead. In fact, what would be dead is the students if you moved these to the tutorial favored by Humanities.

        For example, I am not the greatest person at Stat Mech. If there wasn't a teacher up there, I'd probably never learn it. I can read and re-read a Stat Mech book and absorb about 10%. Lecture it to me, and I suddenly learn.
    • I learned about my 3rd year of college that even taking notes was difficult. Its best to pay very close attention to what the teacher is 'saying.' And ask the TEACHER any questions you have. writing notes is a distraction, though you have to do it. Sometimes good teachers will pass out notes at the beginning of class.

      Of course that was undergrad at a Historically Black College (HBCU). I went to grad school at a regular American University. They are very different. The teachers don't provide nearly a
    • > there is a lot of in-lecture IMing and
      > conversation -- but none of it really pertains to
      > the lecture. Most students who do this are too
      > busy doing personal browsing and conversing to
      > pay attention to the lecture.

      [Yoda]That is why you fail ...[/Yoda]

      Speaking from the lecturer's side of the fence here - I used to find it annoying that some students weren't paying attention to the lecture. These days, as long as they're *quiet* and not annoying someone who *is* paying attention, I figur
    • the old style professor lecture is danm uuseless today anyhow. the student that is genuinely interested will have already found the information needed from the professor's peers or even those that are true experts in the field from the internet.

      Some lectures are valuable... Kurt Vonnegut spoke at Michigan State once and That man can captivate the entire class for hours, while the english lit professor was able to put insomniacs to sleep within minutes of opening his mouth.

      The problem is not what student
    • Rose-Hulman [] has been requiring laptops and having wired ethernet in nearly every classroom since 1995, the year before I got there. They've since added wireless which I believe gets the rooms that weren't able to be wired easily.

      While I saw and was part of some of the type of on-topic conversing going on back then, it wasn't a large part of the usage of the laptops. Aside from where they were explicitly used as part of the lecture, I used mine for about 1/2 on and 1/2 off topic.

      For instance, during math
    • Hey,

      Most students who do this are too busy doing personal browsing and conversing to pay attention to the lecture.

      Here's an idea: Wireless packet sniffer; I heard of one that let you see the images people around you were downloading. Sniffing conversations shouldn't be too hard.

      The program could draw attention to people browsing / chatting, and they could be told off -'Mr jones, if you want to browse porn, do it in your dorm room'. Or all in-lecture conversations could be published on the lecture's web
  • weblog? what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by croddy ( 659025 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:11AM (#6521844)
    most people I know do this with cell phone text messages. a weblog's just not a messageboard.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you're sitting in class IMing back and forth, then you aren't paying attention. It's the exact same as talking "very quietly". Sure, you are the only one being affected by the talking.

    I had an instructor once who was fond of saying "This isn't like TV, I can see you guys too!".
  • by acehole ( 174372 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:12AM (#6521854) Homepage
    The keystrokes from students using IM clients or blogging would keep me awake in lectures.

    It's already enough I have to put up with that strange guy at the front talking loudly about stuff... sheesh.

  • Meeting Back Channel (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Snot Locker ( 252477 ) * on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:12AM (#6521857)
    Several of us at work have used an IM back channel during conference calls and meetings. Usually its a MST3K-like commentary on the goings on. It's a good BS-meter for a meeting -- the more sarcasm on the channel, the more likely the meeting is utter BS.

    Rude? Probably... but anything on the IM back channel was in our heads anyway, so perhaps it's just good therapy :-)

  • by Lane.exe ( 672783 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:12AM (#6521869) Homepage
    Isn't this just like passing notes?

    [annoying IM noise]

    "Are you passing notes, Mr. Smith? Forward that to me so I can read it out loud to the class... hmmm... a slash s slash l slash pick wan two cyber? What is this crap?"

  • by DaRat ( 678130 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:13AM (#6521878)
    I've seen this sort of lecture discussion during conference sessions using Hydra (a collaborative editor available for Mac OS X). A group of us ended up having a parallel discussion about the conference topic while the session was ongoing and at the same time the session moderator used Hydra to take notes.

    The process was quite interesting and helpful for me since it allowed me to interact with other participants and gain new perspectives on the session topic.

    I could see how a lecturer might not appreciate Hydra, blogging or anything else like it since it could basically be a way to silently pass notes, chat, and otherwise not pay attention to the lecture. But, there isn't much the lecturer can really do other than making it important to listen and pay attention.
  • "now that many conferences and universities have wireless access, some people discuss lectures via instant message or weblog as they happen."

    And that's a good thing? Don't students have a hard enough time paying attention to lectures? I was a student once; I know!

    • by Phillip2 ( 203612 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:20AM (#6521979)
      "now that many conferences and universities have wireless access, some people discuss lectures via instant message or weblog as they happen."

      "And that's a good thing? Don't students have a hard enough time paying attention to lectures? I was a student once; I know!"

      I've certainly known it happen at many conferences. People will often look up the website of the speaker, try out their tools, look up their papers while they are speaking. A very good thing.

      Of course others do spend lots of time checking their email, or doing other work. But this is the nature of the beast. At many conferences most delegates are not interested in all the talks, but you often do not know whether you are or not, till a couple of minutes in. So now the choice is between listening to something you are not interested in, or email. A improvement from when you could listen, or fall asleep....

  • by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:14AM (#6521895) Journal
    Everyone is talking about how back-channel discussions will allow students to discuss the lecture in real-time, refining their questions and improving their understanding....

    Come on!

    Has it been THAT long since you've been in school?!

    Here's a typical back-channel discussion:

    "Heh heh the professor said BUTT"
    "No, he said BUT, moron"
    "Check out the rack on the girl in the third row on the right"
    "Yo, that guy with the stupid hair fell asleep. HAHAHA look he's drooling on his desk!"
    "HAHAH! Thats awesome! Hey is anybody on this channel near that guy? Throw something at him"
    "Yeah I'm behind him. Watch this." ...
    "Hee Hee Hee Hee"
    "Yeah! ROTFL!!!"

    • If you were in class with some of the pre-med gunners, you wouldn't be wasting your time chatting... you'd be watching your logs like a hawk for the hack attempts from your classmates, trying to delete your lecture notes.

      I don't know how it is these days, but back when I was in the pipeline, half of all qualified med school applicants just plain didn't get in. The fierce competition really turned some people into boneheads.

  • by icemax ( 565022 ) <> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:15AM (#6521899) Homepage
    StudentFoo: Boy, this prof sure is boring<br>
    BarStudent: Yeah, whats this database shit he's talking about<br>
    StudentFoo: Who cares, wanna sneak out and head to the bars?<br>
    BarStudent: Yea, lets bust this joint<br>
    Seriously, all our in-major lecture halls have Laptops w/internet access and AIM installed. I have yet to see a usefull discussion take place with these tools during a lecture
  • I've seen laptops being used for a wide variaty of things. Most of the lecture halls I sit in have wireless internet, and my in my computer science classes, there tend to be around 5 laptops for a 50 person class.

    I've seen people IM'ing while in class.. but I've also seen people watch movies or play games in class. There are many classes people go to because we might have a pop-quiz or something along those lines, and the only way to stay away is find anything to do besides listen to the instructor.

  • Potentially valuable (Score:2, Informative)

    by haz-mat ( 8531 )
    It seems to me that this could be great; I just finished my second year of school and there is nothing worse than listening to truly bad questions being asked in the midst of a lecture or missing something small and not being able recover in the midst of the lecture and thereby losing the value of the remainder of the lecture.

    If one could set up a system whereby an ongoing dialouge relating to the lecture is occuring so as to ask those stupid questions that are of limited value and to increase the overall
  • by wiggys ( 621350 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:16AM (#6521922)
    K00lDude: God this is boring. Anyone wanna cyber? I'm sitting on the end of row 24

    Wikkid84: asl?

    37337: Dudes, my warez server is up, some and get some pr0n!
  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:17AM (#6521926) Journal
    Heh. When I was in university, about 15 years ago (ack! How'd that happen?!), I needed to point every single brain cell at the lecturer in most of my classes. (And then there was 'introduction to statistics,' which was where we played poker under our desks. :-)

    Maybe it's a matter of course material. I don't honestly thing that University is getting any easier--probably the opposite in fact--but laptops and wireless might be leading the charge away from frantically taking page after page of notes with a cramped hand, while trying to absorb the information at the same time. If so, it's probably a Good Thing. (Of course, some fields are harder to move to the computer. Writing out the formulae in phys. chem. and quantum mechanics strikes me as still a pen-and-paper exercise)

  • by Ikeya ( 7401 )
    Also as previously mentioned, real-time interaction potentially with the teacher would be great! Have certain people in the class be mods so the teacher doesn't get tons of anonymous "you suck" messages.
    Also, it would be great to get WebEx or Netmeeting or something like that working with it too to provide interactive whiteboard/diagram support. Perhaps even interacting with Smart whiteboards like are installed at my University, perhaps the whiteboard could be input realtime to each of the laptop clients
  • by notcreative ( 623238 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:17AM (#6521929) Journal
    Either way, some people consider the practice rude, others consider it progress, and good arguments can be made on either side.

    And there are some people who consider progress in general to be rude.

  • stop him! (Score:3, Funny)

    by zephc ( 225327 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:17AM (#6521940)
    stop him! he's trying to learn for free!
  • by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:18AM (#6521952) Journal
    Dude, the other day I was like back-channeling in this new-age general education requirement class when HOLY SHIT Shirley MacLaine starting typing through my fingers. I was back-channeling channeling. It was like, woah.

  • by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:19AM (#6521961) Homepage Journal
    Does anyone else think it would be a good idea if we all had IM available to us during these lectures?

    *frantically raises hand*
    Yes! Yes! I think it is a great idea. I'm all for IM in class. It is probably one of the few reasons I stay awake through class. The only persistent problem is the professor's droning voice which keeps distracting me from my engaging conversation with Blondebomb25 and Super_gal22.

  • This is indeed progress, in my opinion. I think students should be able to discuss lectures as they are occuring and better understand what is being covered. But what it means is that the instructor isn't doing a good enough job discussing it himself, or isn't keeping the environment open enough to encourage open discussion in the class.

    Certainly, there are some people who will just abuse the ability for the purpose of joking around and waste time, but I know that I would personally use the same idea in so
    • Re:What it means... (Score:5, Informative)

      by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:45AM (#6522287) Homepage
      what it means is that the instructor isn't doing a good enough job discussing it himself, or isn't keeping the environment open enough to encourage open discussion in the class.
      I'm a teacher, and I think you're exactly right about what this says about openness to questions. A couple of things you notice as a teacher:
      • Even if you encourage it, students are usually very shy about asking questions, because they're afraid they'll look stupid.
      • Often a student will rush the podium immediately after class is over, point to the blackboard, and say, "where you wrote 2+2=5, did you really mean 4?" In other words, it often happens that everyone in the class is aching to ask the same question, but they all think they're the only ones who are confused.

      I can also see how the appropriateness of this kind of thing could depend on the situation:

      • At the community college where I teach, the typical number of students who bring laptops to a class is 0, with rare statistical fluctuations going as high as 1. If that 1 is IMing, I guarantee it's not about the class :-) Maybe this could be more appropriate at a business meeting where everyone has a laptop.
      • I teach mostly small classes (15-35 students), so I don't see what the problem is with just raising your hand. But if you're in the horrible situation of teaching one of those ridiculous 300-person lectures, I guess that might not be practical. To me, however, that just begs the question of what is the purpose of a 300-person lecture. Is anybody under the illusion that there's really any learning going on in that kind of class? Why not just watch it on video, or read the textbook? Why doesn't the prof just distribute her PowerPoint file, or type up lecture notes that everyone can discuss online?
      • It's goofy that the prof is the only one who doesn't know what's being said. If she's made a mistake or said something unclear or confusing, shouldn't she be alerted so she can clarify? What this really points to is the need for a more appropriate way to use the technology.
      • The keyboard noise is a real issue. Not only is is distracting as noise per se, but most of the other students are probably assuming (and probably correctly) that the student is websurfing or playing a game. (Again, it might be different in a huge auditorium, where the prof is speaking into a mike.)
  • I kinda like this; in overly structured classes you can get away with some debate, and it doesn't interrupt the class as a whole.

    Plus you can go surf /. if you get bored off your ass (read: pure teaching from the book). =p

  • MUD Xperience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alephnull42 ( 202254 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:22AM (#6521993) Homepage Journal
    In a former company ( that went dot.boom) our tech department included a bunch of hackers (gee, whadda surprise) who had played a lot of MUDs during their college days.

    Since we were spread out across several floors & buildings, we had a telnet chat server running, basically doing IM functionality.

    We got into the habit of holding tech-only meetings via this server, with following benefits:

    - Less waffle, it's harder to digress on a keyboard

    - People actually thinking before "saying" something

    - Instant meeting minutes (a GREAT bonus)

    Unfortunately, this only works if ppl can actually type more than 5 words per minute, hence I don't forsee this reaching the mainstream anytime soon.

    Only very few of the managers understood the benefits, the natural assumptions was geeks+network+server = "this can't be work, they must be playing"
  • did this (Score:3, Interesting)

    by f0rtytw0 ( 446153 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:22AM (#6521995) Journal
    In one of my classes the professor would bring in a wireless access point so people with laptops could use them online during the class. She also brought in a few wireless cards that people could borrow. The point of doing this was to see how this affected the class. At the end of the semester she asked people who had been using laptops regularly what effect it had on them. I for one found it distracting at times since I would be browsing the web or chatting. But the nature of the class was to talk about current issues in the tech world and such so reading slashdot was kind of like doing classwork anyway =)

  • As a full time computer engineering student, I believe that instant messanging would be a terrible thing for the classroom. People would talk about what they will be doing the upcoming weekend, play games, talk abotu other classes, and genereally not pay attention. Only two or three students in a lecture of 120 people usually have a laptop in my electrical/computer engineering class. The real value of IM/email/general internet connectivity comes after class when people need help, need to collaborate, or nee
    • Some classes have mandatory message boards (read: graded) where you have to post your own opinion, then respond to someone elses.

      I'm all for interaction, but this kind of simple-minded requirement just leads to awkward, stupid, and obvious things being posted by people who either 1) can't think of anything better or 2) were already beaten to the punch in asking a truly insightful question.

      • Not only that, usually the messageboard application that the professor is using is a piece of crap, requires IE for no particular reason, is ugly, and won't let you log in. Granted, I'm probably pickier than most students when it comes to web-based applications, but the one I had to use for a class a fwe years back was horrible. I think "Slashcode Administration" should be a 300-level course, and they should maintain the messageboards for the other classes. Wouldn't that be fun?
  • by Thunderstruck ( 210399 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:23AM (#6522002)
    At the University of South Dakota (USD, not in San Diego!) School of Law, most classrooms are outfitted with electrical outlets and network jacks at each seat. This enables even folks with weak batteries to make use of our laptops for note taking et. al. The most amazing adaptation this has caused, however, is not among the students but rather the professors.

    Our faculty has in recent years discovered how to pace lectures by listening to the sound of keystrokes in the audience. If it gets too quiet they can talk more quickly, too much keyboard noise and it's time to pause.
  • by D0wnsp0ut ( 321316 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:23AM (#6522011) Homepage Journal
    I remember, back in the day, when we would sit in the back row and sleep.

    Kids these days...where are their priorities?!
    • Now, we sit in the FRONT row and sleep.

      ( and you KNOW I snored through my DiffEq class! It was at 10 am! It didn't help that I was also the ONLY ONE in the front row...)
  • As said elsewhere this is a good thing. It should help people think what is going on and ask questions. Better than whispering but not sure about the key presses of laptops. Now if there was a silent method of data entry that would be cool

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:25AM (#6522033)
    A comp sci class I was taking last year had wireless access, and the instructor was enthusiastic about students using laptops during lecture. Since all of her lectures were available in powerpoint, you could follow along on your laptop without having to strain to see the projection screen up front. Furthermore, she set up an AIM account so that you could ask her those "obvious" questions that people are often too embarassed to ask mid lecture, but are more comfortable asking with a degree of anonymity. It was funny, because sometimes she would briefly mention a concept that everyone pretended to understand, and you would hear the speakers on her laptop chime like crazy as about 30 new IM's flowed in. In my case, this greatly improved the quality of the lecture, and I learned quite a bit more than I would have with the standard paper and pencil, raise your hand approach. Granted, there was a fair degree of screwing off as some students found their computers to be more of an attractive nuisance than a study aid.

    It seems that in the CS and EE classes that I take, the profs are pretty glad to see students taking an active role in the lectures rather than just sitting and obsorbing information. However in my general requirement classes (sociology, history, blah blah blah) I've found that instructors HATE the concept of deviating from the time-honored teaching methods. Pulling your laptop out in class seems to get the same reaction as if you pulled out an assault rifle.
    • by fallingsilver ( 686984 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:46AM (#6522305)
      A class I took briefly did something similar. Students could post questions on a messageboard during the class, which TAs could then answer. We could also rate the lecture (anonymously) as it proceeded, and when it reached a certain threshold, a bell would sound indicating to the lecturer that his lecture was a) supremely boring or b) supremely interesting. I found it quite a novel concept :)

      He would also call on people in the class to answer questions, and did this by randomly pulling a name from the database of students, and displaying the name in huge letters on the massive projection screen at the front of the lecture hall. Slouching at the back of the room hoping to avoid being spotted and questioned? Completely ineffectual!

    • Naturally the motto of older profs, especially in the humanities, is going to be:

      Change? We fear change...

      Heaven forbid they actually have to evolve and innovate. Most of them have been using the same lectures for the past decade. I've dealt with a few who were borderline Luddites, insisting on whipping out Vis'a'Vis markers and an overhead projector in a class of hundreds.

      And let's not forget that the books could have been carbon dated.
  • I've given several conference presentations and briefings and seen a few changes in technology. Those changes, however, have not created anything new in the lecture hall, however. Those people who are going to pay attention to every word I say are still going to do so. Those people who drift off into their own world now can save the effort of daydreaming and surf the web/chat instead.

    As for meaningful discussion via backchannels, I have yet to see it in action. The audience members would have to communicat
  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:29AM (#6522102)
    At technical meetings, like the IETF, pretty much everyone has 802.11 connectivity and it is very common to send emails or IM about what the speaker is saying.

    I think overall that this tends to improve things, however, in a classroom it might be too distracting and I can see Professors banning it.
  • IM == distraction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jvarsoke ( 80870 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:33AM (#6522153)
    While working as an instructor for Sun I'd often have students using IM on the workstations while I was lecturing. The tip-tap typing wasn't all that much of a problem. And probably if they were only IMing each other about the lecture it wouldn't be that bad, but the students didn't confine themselves to IMing only in the classroom. They'd IM people at work, their wife/husband, their gf/bf etc.

    The result was repeatedly dumb questions being asked. And before you start with that non-sense of "there is no dumb question" let me define it. If I say "X is a Y", then you stop your typing and ask "Is X a Y?" then it is a DUMB question. And there was lots of that while there was IM access. Students would hear something [me] in the backround mention some idea and when they were done typing their after-work bar crawl negociations they'd have an itch to ask a question about that idea.

    I resolved to doing two things. I'd often ask other students to answer the question -- hoping to make it obvious that I just went over that. Or I'd disconnect the room from the firewall. Since most IMs aren't P2P this worked fine. The typing stopped. Attention was back on the guy in the front of the room.

    Unless the class is huge, I don't see the point of back-channeling as helping the students get questions answered. Most professors hope to hear questions from the students, because the question is a good indicator if the prof has gotten his point across. Wthout that feedback lecture quality deteriorates.

    For good mental hygiene, shave with Occam's Razor twice daily
  • by TwistedGreen ( 80055 ) <[twistedgreen] [at] []> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:34AM (#6522160)
    ...but laptops aren't yet as common in classes as one might think.

    Nor should they be. If all you need a laptop for is to take notes, it becomes more of a hindrance than an advantage, especially in lectures on mathematics or lectures with many diagrams. You just can't quickly record mathematical symbols or graphical diagrams with a computer. Classroom use may become more justified when handwriting recognition software matures, but currently there is no good reason to bring a laptop to class.

    Good note-taking has nothing to do with the medium on which the note is recorded, and recording everything said in lecture (which may be possible if you type faster than you write) is often not desirable. You need to filter what you hear and discern the important points from a lecture, not record a dictation. A simple notebook and pencil are perfectly sufficient.
    • You just can't quickly record mathematical symbols or graphical diagrams with a computer
      One way I've gotten around that is by combining the two. I type my notes in a notebook, and if there is a symbol, I have a pad of paper next to it. I enter a footnote on the computer, and quickly draw the diagram on the pad of paper.
      Reason I do that is because I can type faster then I can write.
    • I wonder if the tablets [] would be any better.

      When i was in a real school, i used to use a combo of notes(paper& pen) and typed. I only used the notes for things i couldnt do in vi, like pics, etc. And since it was a lot of code, it just made sense.

      The big reason the computer helped is that i could search through them insted of skimming my aweful handwriting.

      I think the tablet would come in useful as you could do those drawings where needed, type where needed, etc. I know there is no handwritin
    • But paper constrains you to one method of accessing your notes. They exist on paper, static. I would really like to see a note taking system that would help you link concepts together, create hierarchies, and search . Of course you would have to enter the markup quickly for it to be of much use. I'd also really like to be able to check google or medline when something comes up in class I'm not familiar with. Also it's great to have the lecturers .ppt to browse while you're listening to the lecture. This b
  • by LogicX ( 8327 ) * <slashdot.logicx@us> on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:36AM (#6522194) Homepage Journal
    I attend Rochester Institute of Technology, in the Information Technology department.
    Our entire building [] (three floors, just recently expanded) is covered with 802.11b connectivity. Many of the students, including myself bring laptops to class. Sure, some kids abuse them, and surf or play games during lecture (I've been known to do the former during a very boring Intro to System Administration 1 class []), but there are some excellent uses.

    I think the best is checking on something taught in class. More than once in that System Administration [] class the teacher has mentioned something, I doubted it, googled for it, and either learned it to be true (there was a use for the sticky bit to keep programs memory resident, but in current linux the sticky bit's purpose has changed), or false (Windows 2K does NOT require NTFS to do software RAID -- you can use FAT just as easily). This is an excellent way to reinforce information being taught. Had I not had my laptop in class I would've gotten sidetracked, forgotten about it, and never learned the truth about these and other things.

    In another class I took, Network Administration [], the teacher, Bill Stackpole [], would often take advantage of those in class with laptops. If he brought up a topic and wasn't sure about something he mentioned, he'd encourage those of us with laptops to research it quickly, and let the class know the correct technical data. If a student would ask him a question in class that he couldn't answer, he'd encourage anyone with a laptop to help out and find the answer. From even those few excellent uses of wireless connectivity in the classroom I feel its been a great addition to the technology classes at RIT. If someone is going to goof off using a laptop, then they are the same person who was going to goof off doodling in their notebook, nothing lost, nothing gained.
    I could go on and on about the times the Wifi access has saved my ass in one way or another in the GCCIS building. (and maybe I will later) Come out of the wood-work RIT students -- I know you have more stories!
  • you know it much easier to state a point when all you have representing you is text, rather than a face to face confrontation. This is the reason Bush has avoided such turmoil and likewise why Tony Blair is in such hot water now. At least Blair has the balls to face his antagonist face to face. Here in the states, no one can touch the 'imperial' President.
  • by joshsnow ( 551754 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @11:42AM (#6522259) Journal
    I was at university from 1992 through 1995, (Computer Science and Information Systems Design).

    I can remember hearing about one guy who had a laptop computer which he took to every lecture.

    This was so unprecedented back then that he was nicknamed "Laptop". We're talking the days before mobile/cell phone proliferation and the days before widespread use of the World Wide Web.

    This machine used to "bleep" regularly, royally pissing off some of the lecturers.

    One day, it bleeped in the middle of a lecture about Industrial Relations (don't ask) and the lecturer shouted, "If I hear that thing make one more noise I will break it over your head!".

    Laptop retired from the course shortly after this incident.

    Don't know what happened to the lecturer, but if he's still there, he can't be enjoying life too much in these days of mobile device proliferation. Either that or he's suffered a few apoplectic fits...
  • Silicon Chalk (Score:2, Informative)

    by Gribflex ( 177733 )

    I recently met a group of people who are developing an application for just this purpose. It allows for communication throughout the classroom as the lecture is going on. Further, it allows for the instructor to stream his notes to his students as they come on the screen, students can add voice or text annotations to the notes as they see fit, and part of the chat feature allows students to type in questions to the prof while he is lecturing, such that he can read them as they come in and address them wit

  • What's rude is sitting in a 200-person echo chamber of a lecture hall and clacking away on your loud-ass keyboard. It doesn't matter whether it's your voice or your typing... if I can't follow the prof because of your noise, you're robbing me of my tuition and time.
  • I started writing a WML portal (using perl, and a perl module I wrote).

    Maybe it's time to target the professors. The portal comes with a message board, multiple chat rooms, news, links, gallery, admin, stats, etc...

    It's just been a fun little side project that I thought no one would ever want anyhow...

    if you have an Opera Browser or WML - WAP Enabled Device

    Point it to [] - WaPortal (Wireless Access Portal).

    and let me know what you think. I'd like to get s
  • The Laptop Dilemna (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MacGod ( 320762 ) on Thursday July 24, 2003 @12:08PM (#6522530)

    I used to use a laptop in class, but found it ultimately more trouble than it was worth. It worked fine for the English elective (waste of time) or the History of Science courses I took, but not for my core Math & Science classes.

    Basically, by the time you copy out a diagram or complex formula, it will take you so long (especially if you have to switch to Symbol to make half the characters), that it's simply not worth it.

    Now, some profs distribute their lectures in PDFs/Word Documents/HTML files, which makes it much easier, but then many students just download the lecture notes and skip class, which professors tend to hate.

    I think a great solution would be for all students to have wireless laptops, and have the prof stream the lecture to students as he goes. That way, there's an incentive to go to class still, and laptops become a worthwile tool.

    I'm thinking along the lines of a custom program that feeds one page at a time into a PDF or something.

    Alternately, documents with blanks spots to be filled in during the lecture can also work.

    Or, finally, something like the Mimio [] would also be very cool.

  • Lectures are an archaic form of teaching. Having a person preaching about how things are to be done is an inefficient way of learning, can be quite boring, and is VERY difficult to take. I say this after 3 and a half years at university.

    I have had a few different lecturers over the past three and a half years, some I remember fondly, others I remember in pain. I have suffered through hours of lecturers from people who I cannot understand (that was not intended to be racist, and anyone who takes it that way
  • One of the required gen-ed classes at my school is Writing, which is taught in a computer lab. To give the professor credit, she really did try to integrate the technology into her class - for example, all her lecture notes were made available on the message board, there was a message board which was used for graded in-class discussion, and a couple times she had us use an IRC room for an in-class discussion. None of this really added anything of substance, though - and conducting a large-scale class discussion on IRC seemed to be more awkward than just having people use full-duplex analogue audio transmitted/recieved using built-in biological components.

    On the plus side, I was able to browse slashdot during lectures. That was cool.

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming