In a class of the social media age

In a class of the social media age

IN PERSPECTIVE

Youngsters’ attention span is woefully low. They get distracted by the slightest thought and sound. Representative image/Pixabay

"Hello, PFA my assignment” read the mail. I was furious for a minute. Don’t these kids know how to address a teacher? Weren’t they taught letter-writing in school? I resisted the urge to write an angry rejoinder. I am slowly getting used to a new set of students. A long span of 30 years of university teaching has made me more flexible, understanding and less irritable with my wards. What would send me into a flurry and anxious state can at most make me cringe now. “You have become better, not bitter...with age!” my colleagues tease me. I stop short of saying that the modern teacher should change, as per the time and demands of the generation being taught.

When I first got on to the social media bandwagon, I sent friend requests to all those which the medium suggested, including to my students. I realized only later that maybe I should not have, as they would feel forced to accept a request sent by a teacher. I have stopped since but am happy when the request comes from them. It shows that they are comfortable with me. It’s a little disconcerting, too, as an old-school teacher like me finds it tough to be “friends” rather than a “teacher”. But I know that I must evolve. No longer can I expect timid kids in class, lapping up every word I say, placing me on a pedestal, looking up to me and clarifying every single doubt. I should get used to them slyly looking up the net, verifying if the tool mentioned for a particular analysis is right or not.

It’s no solace that they aren’t allowed to use smartphones in class. They will snatch it the minute the teacher’s attention is elsewhere. They will copy material for an assignment from the web, they will send furtive texts in class. There is not much we can do, except bringing in draconian laws or banning certain stuff altogether. This will also bring in a volley of protests from parents, who would want to know how their wards would reach home, communicate and be in touch, without their phones. Ask the parents how they managed without mobile phones in their time, and you will face a sullen glare.  

Youngsters’ attention span is woefully low. They get distracted by the slightest thought and sound. I am trying to remember how it was a few years earlier and am sure it was not this bad. There would be a few dreamy and confused kids then, too, but not so many of them like now. It’s a herculean task trying to hold the attention of a whole class of hyperactive students (yes, almost all are hyperactive), compete with their gadgets, their thoughts and make them follow a new concept.

When textbooks were rare and the teacher’s lessons were important, students were less distracted. Now, they have Uncle Google, apps, MOOC courses, and so on. I do remember a sincere student remarking once that he prefers attending classes to learning on his own as he thrives in an environment of co-learning and time-bound completion of work. He had mentioned, too, that he learns at least 80% of the syllabus in class and has only a little to brush up later. I never fail to mention this in all my classes, along with other reasons like teamwork, focused and disciplined learning and interacting with peers.

On the other hand, teaching has become more relaxed than before. I am less diffident now, while talking about new stuff. I happily ask them to open their laptops/phones and write down formulas and figures. I can ask them to find the solutions online, by tweaking research questions and prodding them a bit. If it’s software, I happily let them take charge of the class, as they are digital natives as opposed to my immigrant status in that area. I love listening to them as they talk about music, food, the latest trends and use my classes to talk about civic consciousness, kindness, rules for safe driving, etc., without being preachy. Most of them are focused on goals, want to make a difference and are far more tuned to current happenings. Much more than we were, perhaps. The advent of media, visual, print and social have ushered in a bunch of knowledgeable, self-confident and aware citizens.

I admire them as they exhibit their talents in multiple areas — arts, literature, music, entertainment and so on. A trend picked up from their tech-savvy parents who juggle multiple things at the same time, maybe. I see a new set of parents are perfectly alright with the choices their children make, be it in personal life, career choices or friends. 

There used to be a distance between the teacher and the taught, which is slowly closing. I find myself doubling up as a friend, counsellor and confidante on many occasions. A well-maintained jolly demeanour, a sense of humour, and a deep understanding of the adolescent psyche are pre-requisites of my job now. The key is to switch to interactive teaching and new pedagogical tools.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Statistics, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru)

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