Hopefully no one has to sit behind the projector. Image from EdTech Stanford University, Flickr Creative Commons.

Traditional universities are designed much like the United States Constitution: hallmarks of knowledge and innovation made with the intent to advance and shape society. However, the bones of both universities and our Constitution could not anticipate the nuances and strides of the future. They were constructed in a time, for a time, that is not ours. As such, it is difficult to interpret how some aspects of both of these important pinnacles fit in our present.

Take for example the lecture hall. All of the cramped chairs face forward in a large, stuffy room – some are lucky enough to have air conditioning – and feature small pull-out desks barely big enough for a notebook. What is appealing about this setting? Are students excited to come to this classroom? Maybe, if the teacher can hold their attention.

How many brand new lecture halls have been constructed within the last ten years? I would wager that investments in student learning space has been allocated more into smaller, more interactive classrooms than lecture halls. These rooms surely cost more than installing several hundred chairs with a projector; many of these smaller classrooms have multiple screens, interactive tablets, tables where students can face each other, and features such as spotlights and smartboards. This could be seen as a highly inefficient use of money – less students fit in these pricey spaces. However, more and more universities are recognizing the value of learning by doing.

A teacher should not be hindered if he or she is confined to a lecture hall not made for today’s learners. Teaching style should also be molded to fit the present.  It may be difficult to accept cellphones and laptops in the classroom and label them as distractions. However, many high schools do not allow girls to wear certain types of clothing, labeling shorter-length shorts and thin-strapped tank tops as distractions as well.

In both of these cases, the real problems are not the so-labeled “distractions,” but rather a lack of discipline and interest in learning. Still, a teacher may do all they can to be inclusive, innovative and encouraging in the classroom and still not be able to reach everyone. They should not be hindered by this either.

For those who wish to learn, it is not fair to deny them the freedom of having their technologies within reach. Rather than distrusting students from the get-go, asking students what keeps their attention, having them close their laptops at certain times, and overall, keeping inclusivity in mind is more important than exerting control over them. Forcing a student to learn on your terms is just as demoralizing as forcing a girl to change into her P.E. uniform because her tank top is “too distracting”.

-J