By Jonathan Painter, Class of 2018
With computers, iPhones, iPads, voice recorders, and now, smart-watches, it is clear that technology plays a major role at Furman, both in and out of the classroom. Is this, however, a beneficial use of available resources or a superfluous and potentially discriminatory distraction? While laptops and smartphones can be a valuable tool, too much reliance on them by students and faculty could be harmful with respect to student inclusion.
Technology can certainly be a great boon in the classroom. As someone with terrible handwriting, I can attest to the fact that taking notes on a laptop is faster and easier. It yields much more legible and well-organized results. A video or PowerPoint presentation can illustrate complicated ideas much better than a student or professor can with a verbal explanation. Cell phones and laptops help with looking up information instantly and, in many cases, we can even pull up the PowerPoints being used in class and follow along on our laptops or tablets. It has gotten to the point that many activities and contests on campus require a smartphone to participate. We are certainly capable of using technology to make our college experience better. The question is, do we?
While computers and smartphones in the classroom can provide several advantages, technology can be extremely distracting. I cannot count the number of times I have seen my fellow students using Facebook, Twitter, Yik Yak, and Reddit on their laptops and cellphones. Just this week, I saw someone playing a first-person shooter on his laptop in the middle of a lecture. While we all have classes that can drag a bit, this student’s disrespectful actions within the class distracted not only the student but also the classmates sitting around him. Just because technology can improve our academic experience does not necessarily mean that it does.
There is also the socioeconomic aspect to this technology question. Furman is generally an affluent school, but its student population ranges in terms of wealth. Even a cheap smartphone usually costs several hundred dollars, and service can cost upwards of $80 a month. Instagram contests or school-sponsored apps can be fun and useful for those who can afford the technology needed to participate, but if we rely too heavily on our technology, then students who cannot afford these luxuries stand at a serious disadvantage. Not only that, this is a self-perpetuating cycle — students with the technology can benefit from cheaper digital textbooks. They can avoid pens, paper, and other note-taking paraphernalia almost entirely. They end up spending less money because they can afford to spend more.
What stance, then, should the school administration take towards technology? For better or for worse, technology in the classroom is the future of education. It may be distracting, but so is doodling. The Furman leadership should permit students to use technology in the classroom. To ban it would be to prevent access to a vital teaching tool and being close-minded about new things is the opposite of the liberal arts experience they claim to endorse. With that in mind, it is essential that they do not make resources that are only available to part of the student body necessary for academic success.
Technology is becoming more and more commonplace in scholastic environments at every level. The time has come to ask ourselves how we can harness this power to yield the greatest possible educational benefits without distracting students or causing an educational schism across the same socioeconomic lines that are tearing apart our society. This has the potential to permanently change the college experience for good or for ill. Let us work together to make sure it is the former.