College Etiquette (from a college student's perspective)

Nowadays, when I sit down to read a book it is so hard to like it. I have forced myself to stare at a page for as long as it takes before I could grasp what I was reading. My attention span for slow paced readings and a teacher standing at the front of the room lecturing is lessening by the minute and I am determined to get it back.

I love technology and what it has done in my lifetime but I have suffered the consequences of constant stimulation. (Whenever I do Homework, the TV is on, my cell phones going off; I’m looking up movie times and the radio’s blasting.)

Back then, my mom says she was happy and proud to put herself through college…”not everyone was as privileged as I was,” she said…and receive such a reputable degree…I hope I feel that same way when I end this chapter of my life and in the meantime I will respect my professors as if they were doing me favor and spread the word. —JuliCollege Etiquette (from a college student’s perspective) (Juli’s Views)

Even if Juli hadn’t ended with a Valentine to the teaching profession, I’d have been very interested in the content of this essay. I’ve been thinking a lot about attention spans lately.

Both my children are lively and energetic, which means it’s hard for them to sit still. All through the month of June, I’ve been going to the office just one or two days a week, and the rest of the time I’ve been doing the family thing.

Peter is well into that magical age of childhood when he finds almost endless amusement in a diverse range of activities such as burping, farting, and making up songs (about burping and farting). While I used to worry about his short attention span, now I find he gets fixated on something. (“Can I have a root beer now? I really want a root beer. Daddy, I really want a root beer. Can I ask mommy for a root beer? Did you forget about my root beer? Okay, while I wait, I’ll pretend I’m drinking a root beer.”)

He has picked up my interest in “god games” (like Sim City, Civilization, and lately, Black and White), and will sit for hours with a book on animals, chess, or robotics (he’s eight, by the way). He’s also becoming quite an expert on his scooter. He is very quick to lecture his sister when she’s not being cooperative, and that can be a problem (since we have to keep reminding him that the best way he can help Carolyn learn to behave properly is to behave properly himself, so that she has a good example to follow).

For the last few days, I’ve been spending time playing board games and card games with my four-year-old, in part in order to increase her attention span.

She can’t quite sit through a full game of The Magnificent Race, but that’s okay, because Peter and I just alternate taking her turn for her when she has to wander off to do other things. But a hand of go fish or concentration is much more her speed. (I’m also teaching my daughter to read, which is a pleasure. I’ve been spending about a half hour a day with her, usually in two chunks. It’s a challenge to get her to sit still, it’s great to see her progress, and my wife looks on me with love whenever she sees me working so diligently with Carolyn.)

We were all sitting on front of the TV, ready to watch the space shuttle launch. Leigh had space books spread out in the living room, and we had freeze-dried ice cream ready for an afternoon snack. After Peter read her a book about space travel, Carolyn announced, “I don’t want to be grow up to be a painter any more. I want to be — an astronaut painter!” Or maybe she meant “astronaut-painter.”

At any rate, we have been working hard to give them experiences that are richly linked, so that instead of flitting from subject to subject, they develop the ability to make connections that are both broad and deep.

Last week, I was participating in a faculty training session, and I was really interested in the material being covered, so I opened up a blank word processor page, and started typing notes. The facilitator, hearing the typing keys, politely asked for “us all” (meaning me) to pay attention. I switched to my PDA, where I tapped away more frantically in order to keep up. I’ll keep this in mind the next time I presume that a student who is clicking keys or pushing a button is not paying attention.

Nevertheless, my favorite classroom at Seton Hill (Admin 405) has about 25 computers around the outside of the room, and tables in the middle. That means there’s a physical break between lecture/discussion and online work.