Sunday, November 11, 2007

Doonesbury on classroom communication

I found today’s Doonesbury to be particularly funny.

Doonesbury for Sunday, 11 Nov. 2007:
For me, the strip works on two levels. First, I think Doonesbury is poking fun at the way young people interact with technology, rather than suggesting that technology in the classroom is a wonderful thing. As evidence for this perspective I would suggest the joke in the throwaway panels—Zipper appears to be busily engaged in some sort of heavy thinking which overwhelms him, but this activity is revealed in the last panel to be checking his email—and the fact that Zipper is not the brightest character in the strip. I found the comic funny at this intended level: Zipper is clearly not participating in the class, and his scheme for avoiding being called out on this point makes for an ironically-exciting narrative.

(Personal note: this situation reminded me of my own college experience. When I was a freshman, I would regularly sit in the back of a large, required survey course and read the newspaper. On one occasion, I didn’t hear the professor when he called on me to recite something or other. When a friend a few rows over got my attention and let me know what had happened, I jump up to do the reading, but the professor had moved on to something else, so I stood sheepishly for five minutes until he finally acknowledged me.)

The comic also works for me at another level, one where Zip is able to use his considerable techno-savvy to deal with the age-old problem of being called on to answer a question about material you haven’t studied. Zipper is merely using his laptop—IM and Google—to provide a novel means for achieving an old solution: getting the answer from someone else. And, in this case, because he found the answer himself, it is more likely that he will remember it.

I’m generally amused by professors who don’t allow laptops in their classes because they “distract” the students too much. Do professors think that all the students without laptops are paying attention? Did they never pass notes, or sleep, or read newspapers in class? At least in Zipper’s case, he is able to use his distraction as part of the classroom environment, even though he isn’t completely engaged with that environment.

No comments: