Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Studying alone, really alone

A fringe benefit of reading Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (2011): one can assemble from the book’s data and conclusions a to-do list for genuine learning in college. Arum and Roksa find that students who learn the most in college do three things: they take courses with professors who have high expectations and require much reading and writing; they talk to professors during office hours; and they study alone.

I think that Arum and Roksa have it right, but I think it's time to rethink the meaning of alone. When I walk through my college library, I see student after student studying sort-of alone: stopping repeatedly to check messages (most likely texts and tweets and updates) on a phone that is always within reach. There might be especially urgent reasons for any given student to have a phone out and on, but I doubt that emergencies account for the scenes I see again and again.

A student whose work is constantly interrupted by messages from the world beyond the library, who studies (or tries to) while anticipating the arrival of those siren songs, is never really alone, and never really paying attention — partial attention being, I would argue, a form of inattention. A better to-do for greater learning: study disconnected. Alone, yes, but with beeswax in your ears — in other words, with your phone silent and out of sight. A phone is hardly the only obstacle to attention: the mind provides distractions enough of its own. There’s no need to supplement them.

Related posts
A good place to study
A review of Academically Adrift

[Arum and Roksa studied the academic progress of students who began college in Fall 2005. Thus these students did much of their work before the massive growth of Facebook and Twitter. In Odyssey 12, beeswax protects Odysseus’ crew from the song of the Sirens. Odysseus, ever curious, has himself tied to the mast so that he can safely hear the song.]

comments: 3

Pete said...

I'm beyond the age of formal studying, but I'm glad I didn't have a smartphone during my college years. Even my pleasure reading is routinely interrupted by my random online wandering. But during the past few weeks I've started (I hope) to change that.

I recently finished reading a William Trevor short story collection, Cheating at Canasta. I noticed that the stories were typically 20 pages long, which with my fairly slow reading pace could be finished during my one-hour train commute. But since my ride always started with checking email and Facebook, the story was never quite finished by the time my train arrived at its destination. So I changed my routine: I would start reading immediately after getting on the train, and only after the story was done would I let myself go online. That made reading the book a much more complete and satisfying experience. (And, of course, I got much more enjoyment from reading Trevor than a mind-numbing procession of Facebook status updates.)

Though I'm now reading a novel, I'm trying the same approach. Read until the train is within 5-10 minutes of its destination, and then if I'm at a chapter end or another logical break point, then I go online for the duration of the ride. The new process is going well so far and, with any luck, I'm weaning myself from what can easily become a debilitating habit.

Daughter Number Three said...

It's hard to imagine what my college and graduate school experiences would have been like with my now-incessant web and social media checking.

I know for sure I couldn't have gotten as much reading done.

Elaine said...

I think it must be getting harder to shape any child's behavior so that s/he learns to concentrate, especially if the adult is distracted by the many devices in their environment.

I notice that the library, with its Wi-Fi, is a different place now...