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February 18, 2008 - 4:43pm



Let's consider two recent, related pieces in the University of Miami newspaper.

The first announces the appearance, in selected classrooms, of a new technology called SYNCHRONEYES.

Synchroneyes is the sort of thing universities all over the country are spending your tuition dollars on.

Instead of doing something about disruptive in-class laptop use that costs nothing -- banning them -- many universities are starting an expensive war with them.

Synchroneyes marks a major escalation in the classroom technology battle: The professor as spy-master.

With Syncroneyes, the professor can "view all the computer screens in the classroom and redirect the student's attention if they digress from the lecture topic."

Elegantly put. Let's see this interaction in practice.

Soltan: " Mr. Clark, third row, all the way to the left: Would you be willing to switch your screen back to the Heidegger from"

Clark: "One minute. I'm almost done."

"The professor is also able to control access," the Miami article continues, "to the Internet or to specific computer applications by blocking students individually or as a group."

While UD lectures and leads discussions and writes on the blackboard and reads texts aloud, she also, once Synchroneyes is installed, constantly scans all the screens in the room, judges each screen's pertinence to the class, and shuts down the impertinent.

What a pedagogical advance. What power.

The Miami editorial board, in the second piece, notes that the university is indeed considering an eventual across-the-board laptop ban in classrooms. "[ D]oesn't that take responsibility away from the students?" the student editors ask. "Each student pays over $30,000 a year in tuition. If we want to waste our time in class Facebooking and not learning, isn't that our prerogative? Having the computers in the classroom may cause a distraction to students, but it also teaches us to work around distractions. After all, we will be facing the same distractions in the real world, where we won't have bosses and security cameras."

The first claim here is that students should be free to assume the responsibility of farting their lives away and squandering their parents' money.

Being moronic and irresponsible is of course anyone's prerogative in a free country; the problem is that universities qua institutions are kind of about the opposite of this. Miami, to be sure, is a pretty unserious place -- all that football -- so if you're going to get any university to agree to take your money and let you be a fuckwit, it might be Miami. But you can't be sure.

Second, the students argue that since the world's a distracting place, the university classroom should be one too. The ideal classroom in terms of preparing students for the world, then, would feature not only distracting laptops, but other forms of technological distraction - cellphones, iPods, Blackberries, all of them firing away...

The argument ends by anticipating that the sort of people who graduate from college "won't have bosses and security cameras." But nitwits who barely make it through college end up in just the sorts of jobs that feature bosses and security cameras.

With Synchroneyes, the professor's an early, more benign version of the bastard who's going to keep you in line for the rest of your life.

Another thing. The next innovation in the classroom technology wars will be something called, let's say, PROFSTOP. Profstop will block the professor's attempt to block ba-ZOOM-bas.


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