Free iPhones for College Students

Apparently some (higher-end, of course) universities are distributing iPhones and iPods to their incoming students: iPhones if they're willing to take on the monthly contract, iPod touches if they're not. This gives the students a handheld portable computer they can carry with them into classes.

While schools emphasize its usefulness — online research in class and instant polling of students, for example — a big part of the attraction is, undoubtedly, that the iPhone is cool and a hit with students. Basking in the aura of a cutting-edge product could just help a university foster a cutting-edge reputation.

Apple stands to win as well, hooking more young consumers with decades of technology purchases ahead of them. The lone losers, some fear, could be professors.


Why are the professors "losers" according to this analysis? Because the professors must "compete" with the devices, and inevitably lose.

Students already have laptops and cellphones, of course, but the newest devices can take class distractions to a new level. They practically beg a user to ignore the long-suffering professor struggling to pass on accumulated wisdom from the front of the room — a prospect that teachers find galling and students view as, well, inevitable.

“When it gets a little boring, I might pull it out,” acknowledged Naomi J. Pugh, a first-year student at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., referring to her new iPod Touch, which can connect to the Internet over a campus wireless network. She speculated that professors might try harder to make classes interesting if they were competing with the devices.


This is so wrong that I'm actually genuinely surprised. It seems that this story was written by someone who knows nothing about the subject, prefers a "cool kids with techno gadgets outmaneuver stodgy profs" ("Revenge of the Nerds" meets "Animal House") narrative, and prefers only to interview professors trapped in the same ancient story: one of the professors interviewed had apparently never heard of an iPhone:

Robert S. Summers, who has taught at Cornell Law School for about 40 years, announced this week — in a detailed, footnoted memorandum — that he would ban laptop computers from his class on contract law.

“I would ban that too if I knew the students were using it in class,” Professor Summers said of the iPhone, after the device and its capabilities were explained to him.


Ai yi yi. Okay, here's the drill: in a large lecture class, with 100 students or more, the professor doesn't even care if you're there let alone if you're mentally checked out. Short of masturbating in your chair, you can do what you want. So long as you pass the exams, you're cool.

In a lab that's run well, you're too busy to play with your phone. In a lab that's run badly, who cares? It's for, like, one credit hour. It's also run by a TA who's 3 years older than you, and far more addicted to her iPhone than you could dare to dream.

And then there are small discussion-centered classes, like the ones we teach in the English department. In these classes the teacher has the absolute power to ban outright any device she wants to: laptops, mp3 players, and phones are all named on my syllabi as completely verboten. At any time I can simply tell a student to leave the room and dock his/her attendance grade. As my syllabus says: students must be present mentally as well as bodily to be counted present. I have no trouble enforcing this: laptops are big and obvious, mp3 players leave tell-tale earbud trails, and so only phones are an issue.

And phones in class have been, by the way, an issue for years, since before the iPhone, since before schools gave out iPhones: but you know what? The few students who are sneaky and subtle enough to get away with spending whole classes texting their friends, playing enigmo (which is really effing cool), and using the Facebook ap to look at pictures from last night's drunken party pay their own penalties in the form of grades.

So who gives a rat's behind? And who's to say that if they weren't playing with their phones they'd be paying rapt attention? That they wouldn't be daydreaming or doodling or writing angsty poetry about their latest breakups?

Most importantly, though: it is no professor's job to "compete" with an iPhone. Nor is it a professor's job to compete with a movie, a roller coaster, a weekend in Vegas, or a hike to the top of a Mayan pyramid. Not to mention the latest evolution in marijuana technology, or a person's first, one, true love. The world is full of stimulating stuff that is not classroom learning. Professors aren't walking around demanding students dump all other concerns and only think about classroom learning. Professors merely punish those students unable to work classroom learning into their busy schedules by denying them passing grades, and, therefore, college degrees.

You don't need a college degree to enjoy life. So go, enjoy! And quit pretending teaching is a freaking minstrel show: it's not.

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