Monday, September 17, 2007

Put the Laptop Away

One difference between a large lecture calculus and the theater is that in class, I do not need to respect the fourth wall.

Today I saw a kid fussing on his laptop relatively near the front of the lecture hall, so I walk over to him to see what he's doing. I am wearing a wireless mic, so the class can hear my side of the conversation; this is awesome, as I will never lose a shouting match in the lecture hall because I will always be louder and calmer with my wireless mic.

Walking around the lecture hall also gives the class a chance to see my shoes. Most of the time my shoes are hidden behind the lab bench, as I teach in the chemistry lecture hall.* Today I wore black patent leather pumps with 3.5" stiletto heels. I need more students to chime in on Rate My Professors with positive comments about my shoes. Style over substance is the name of the game.

Turns out that the guy is not in the class and just came with his friend. This I do not understand. Who goes to calculus class for the heck of it? It's not like this was History of Rock. We weren't having a quiz, so no one needed to send a ringer. It's a nice day out; he could have sat outside while his friend was at calculus class. But, whatever. He put the laptop away.

Not five minutes later I see another kid with a laptop. Further back, so I just address him from the front of the room. He claims he has his laptop out so that he can see the slides. The slides that I send out as pdfs printed 4-to-a-page and that are projected on a 15' screen at the front of the lecture hall. Those slides. It wasn't a tablet PC, so he wasn't taking notes on it. I doubt that he can TeX calculus in realtime. If he has a vision disability, he should have given me the paperwork or talked to me ahead of time instead of just ignoring my no laptops rule.

At the end of class, the usual mix of students came down to the front to pester me with their problems, most of which didn't really need my input. A few manufactured reasons to talk to me so that they could comment on the laptop issue. They knew that no one really takes notes on their laptops during class, especially not freshmen in the Calculus Circus. I think they were testing me when one said, "I had a class where people were playing WoW." My immediate response, of course, was to tell them that my MacBook has integrated graphics and not a separate video card, so I'd get terrible fps if I tried to play WoW while teaching class.

As long as I'm evaluated based on how many of them learn calculus, I'm going to pester, cajole, and nag them to pay attention in class and do the homework. If you have no interest in learning calculus, then you should take someone else's class. Yes, I'm a hypocrite who never did her calculus homework, who spent just about every class period of her calc 3 course her freshman fall writing letters to her boyfriend, and who now spends meetings fussing about on her iPhone. That just means that I know what you're up to. And I wear better shoes.

*Does anyone know any calculus demos that call for fire?