- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2006


During lectures, they answer their cell phones, text message their friends and play games on their laptop computers. Are college students really that rude?

Yes, says Delaney Kirk, a professor of management at Drake University in Des Moines. But, she adds, it’s not their fault.

“It’s the same behavior we’re seeing in the rest of society,” Ms. Kirk says. “There’s a general lack of social skills.”

Sparked by her own experience with distracted students, Ms. Kirk has become something of an expert on managing such behavior. She hosts workshops around the country, helping faculty deal with what she says has become a problem at campuses.

Part of the problem is the lure of the techno-gadgets that students bring into the classroom — cell phones, BlackBerrys and laptop computers.

“Students think they can e-mail, text message, check the Web and listen to you, and they can’t,” Ms. Kirk says.

During her workshops, Ms. Kirk presents advice to help instructors better manage their classes. Among her suggestions:

• Establish credibility by telling students how they will benefit from taking the class.

• Decide how formal or informal the class will be.

• Set clear expectations and enforce them.

• On the first day of class, emphasize its importance by giving an assignment that students must turn in at the next class.

• Handle discipline problems immediately.

Ms. Kirk also gives tips on how to motivate students, deal with cheating and get useful feedback from students.

Heather Sklenicka, a professor at Rochester Community and Technical College, in Rochester, Minn., and Brian Hammes, a chemistry professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, attended one of Ms. Kirk’s recent workshops.

Miss Sklenicka says she frequently sees students who get bogged down trying to balance the demands of school, work and family. “They are able to access anything any time and by having that access, their spouse, child, boyfriend, girlfriend or parent expects them to be accessible all the time,” she says.

Mr. Hammes says students often use cell phones or BlackBerrys to keep up on out-of-class matters during lectures. “They are trying to multitask, and they are doing it poorly for the most part,” he says.

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