GW students deserve better than disruptive, self-centered classroom participation

Allow me to present a situation with which undergraduate students may be familiar: You’re sitting in class, eagerly taking notes while your professor reveals fascinating new details about your favorite subject. You can’t help but smile.

This is why you’re here – it’s the class you suffered through grueling GPAC requirements to take, it’s why you picked GW and it’s why you’re paying as much as $59,780 in tuition alone to attend this university. You’re locked in, you’re as focused as one can be. Then, somebody raises their hand and throws the whole lecture to a grinding halt so they can, for instance, explain to the professor and the class that they did a humanitarian retreat to the country being discussed or that they heard a podcast that made reference to this subject. It seems too many GW students are comfortable stopping lectures to brag or selfishly soak up attention at the expense of everyone else’s valuable class time.

This is not an occasional phenomenon. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t experience a student hijacking one of my classes, halting the professor’s presentation to discuss a barely-related side note. Even more frequently will I hear friends and classmates complain that it’s happening to them as well. Using up class time to embellish your own image is selfish, immature and beneath the high standard that students ought to be holding themselves to. Save your comment for after class, or better yet your Twitter feed. I doubt your professor is just itching to hear about how you already know more about this subject than she does.

Now, college students are occasionally less than stellar time-managers in our academic careers, but normally it’s our own time being wasted. We know that the cost of tuition at GW is $29,890 per semester. If you’re taking five classes in a semester, that’s $5,978 per course. If you spend a class session shopping for a new pair of jeans or playing a crossword puzzle, you may be wasting hundreds of dollars, but that time is yours and only you will suffer for having thrown it away. The issue with selfish disruptions is that they waste everyone else’s time too, and other students are forced to suffer through them as the class time they’ve paid so much for is wasted. 

The cost extends beyond dollars and cents. The opportunity to take the classes that form a foundation for students’ future careers will not come a second time. These diversions  contribute to an environment within classes that lacks focus and robs well-meaning students of a chance to have real conversations about what they’re studying. A classroom where students are emboldened to take up as much time as they’d like to discuss whatever they please becomes a space in which less and less actual education is happening. Our classroom experience becomes more and more watered down by students whose priority is no longer enrichment.

Professors also bear some responsibility here in that they allow these disruptions to happen. In my experience, professors are likely to politely entertain such comments, allowing them to occupy as much time as the student wishes. The instructor’s role is both to enlighten and to direct – it is vital that they manage class time in an efficient manner. Professors cannot continue to allow these disruptions, for the sake of the students who are in that classroom to learn, not to waste time. 

Educators like to say there are no stupid questions, and while this is not entirely true, there is an argument to be made that answering as many questions from the class as possible promotes a more relaxed atmosphere where students are comfortable contributing to the class’s understanding of the material and no one gets left behind. But, this laissez-faire strategy of leadership tends to be more wasteful than it is helpful, opening the door to any idea a student wishes to introduce, no matter how distracting or irrelevant. Less is more when it comes to student participation in a lecture. Instructors should set out clear guidelines at the beginning of every course for what constitutes a relevant question or comment to create and environment that advances the entire class’s understanding. They should also maintain a policy of refusing to respond to any extraneous or distracting comments, by politely asking that students hold their query for after class, office hours or to be asked via email. If professors fail to set the pace of the lecture or discussion, they fail their students academically, and by extension, financially.

We all have questions. A key part of our jobs as students is to ask questions. Save the showing off for your job interviews, or for your parents when you see them at Thanksgiving break. Let’s work together as students to create an academic environment where all students are focused on the pursuit of knowledge and experience, free from selfish interruptions and distractions.

Zachary Bestwick, a sophomore majoring in political science, is an opinions writer. 

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.