Letter: Be courteous in class; stay focused until the end

I’m writing to discuss my frustration with the behavior of many (if not a majority!) of students in many of the large lectures offered on campus. I’ve noticed that about four to six minutes before a lecturer is finished talking, the following activities seem to take place:

A large portion of the class begins to pack their notebooks/laptops into their bags. Not an easy task performed noiselessly. Multiple students inexplicably stand up and leave the hall; the door slamming shut behind them. Despite many students’ efforts to do it quietly, inevitably about a half dozen attached ‘chair desks’ loudly slam down into position as they’re lifted off of laps.

General chatter and conversation crops up; seemingly without regard or respect for the lecturer. As pencils and paper disappear, cell phones emerge from pockets and are intently stared into. Miscellaneous rustling occurs. Chairs are shifted in and coats are prepared for use.

Now, my problem is that this all takes place well and thoroughly before the lecturer has finished speaking. Not only is this quite disrespectful to the speaker, but disrespectful to the other students. It’s become such an issue in one of my classes in particular (Soc134) that despite the best efforts of a quite powerful microphone, the professor is rarely understandable for the last two or three minutes of class. 

This would certainly be annoying under any circumstance – but the fact of the matter is that the last five or so minutes of class are often the most important! This is the time when the lecturer is not only giving out valuable information about coming assignments or exams, but also when the lecture reaches its natural crescendo – arguments are emphasized and explained thoroughly as concluding points are made. 

It’s truly very irritating, I can assure you. It’s also very interesting, as this almost never occurs in a class with less than 30 students. Without a doubt, it’s a behavior that’s become a norm because of its inherent anonymity – really one of the worst things that can happen.

I think that this is just one of the results of gigantic lectures with hundreds of students; the lecturer is de-humanized and becomes, to many students, almost like a talking head on a television program.

I would like to take this opportunity to challenge students to break the norm. Please listen attentively and pretend to take notes or whatever you usually do, and then once the speaker has finished speaking, you may make as much noise as possible zipping up your backpack and getting out of the room.

I also challenge professors, who are part of the problem. There are techniques you can use to keep students from exhibiting this very annoying behavior. First and foremost – do not warn students that the lecture is about to conclude. This sounds perhaps a tad trite, but in reality, all this accomplishes is to very quickly and effectively evaporate whatever remaining desire the students had to listen in these waning moments of class.

I notice this all the time – the lecturer makes a verbal note that the class is almost over, or even just glances at his/her watch, and suddenly chaos erupts as listening ends and preparations to bolt from the room begin. Secondly, save important pieces of information to give out at the end of the lecture.

I know this also sounds silly, but countless times have I seen lecturers awkwardly trail off in their vernacular as they realize that they’ve reached the end of their lesson plan five minutes before class has ended. If you save something important for this moment, you can hold the class’ attention.

Now of course, to some degree you cannot entirely prevent the problem. There’s just a natural urge to pack up your junk and start thinking about what’s next when a class is nearing completion. But we can reduce the effects of the problem if we at least put in some effort.