Reactor

Professor at Yale Limits Enrollment In Art History Course Due to Internet Concerns

by Liza Eliano on January 16, 2012

Yale University Campus (photo via cvent.com)

Students at Yale University are enrolling by the hundreds to get into an introductory Art History course this semester, but that’s not the big surprise. The real shocker is that professor Alexander Nemerov is turning many of them away.

The Yale Daily News reports that while over 500 people have signed up for the course, Nemerov has capped enrollment to 270 due to his wish to move the class to a smaller room where there is no Wifi so students can’t surf the internet during lectures.

Nemerov told The Yale Daily News:

In the past many students in the lecture were doing Facebook or email or all kinds of things on their computers. So for me it’s better if there’s a room where that is not possible, and one of the unfortunate effects of that is that I have to limit the enrollment of the class to the capacity of the auditorium.

Have we really gotten to the point where internet policing is going to limit people’s education? True, I remember sitting in Art History courses, or most courses for that matter, and seeing people looking at Facebook or random sites on their laptops, and I also indulged in that myself. But when it comes down to it, professors should trust that the students who want to do well in a class and are interested in the subject matter will be smart enough to resist the internet for an hour and pay attention. Are Yalies really that weak? Will budding art worlders not be able to read art websites during class?

Professors should also realized that students spending time on the internet in class may be due to a lack of engagement (hint: Prof. Nemerov, maybe it’s YOUR fault). Of course it’s hard to get students to participate and feel engaged in a lecture with hundreds of people, but it doesn’t help when professors read straight from their dissertations, as I remember experiencing in some courses at my school. This isn’t to say Professor Nemerov is not an inspiring lecturer — one commenter on the Yale Daily News article actually calls him just that — but a professors’ teaching style is something to consider when looking at how students behave during class.

Robin Cembalest, editor at ArtNews and a Yale alumna, told Hyperallergic, “I think it’s a pity that they have to limit the class size for technology reasons.” Cembalest pointed out the importance of Art History courses for a well-rounded education, especially for people studying other subjects, and also mentioned that Yale has two great art museums plus several galleries, another reason why students should be encouraged to take Art History at the university. “It just seems like rather than limiting the number of students, they should create another class,” Cembalest added.

In the past Professor Nemerov has taught his course, titled “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present,” in the much larger Yale Law School Auditorium that he estimates seats about 450 students, so capping enrollment was never necessary.

Considering how much students fork over nowadays to go to a tony college like Yale, and how much arts education itself is suffering in the US, perhaps Professor Zemerov will want to reconsider his decision. Just the fact that so many students want to take an Art History course shows that the interest and demand for arts education is on the up. A school as rich in art resources as Yale should be able to find a solution.

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.
  • Anonymous

    His fault that students like you can’t bother to engage with the material?  Sorry, your article proves that his decision makes perfect sense.  You have no idea what it’s like to lecture a class when you feel they’re all more engaged with twitter than the material.  

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Perhaps you’re unaware that the writer isn’t a student? And when exactly is a professor to blame?

      • Alicia Cooper

        The professor is to blame when he’s not being engaging, but the school is to blame when the classes are too big. Even 270 students is way too big for a class. I can’t imagine sitting in the back and really being engaged in that class, whether or not I had a lap top at hand.

  • http://twitter.com/akacocolopez Coco Lopez

    boo hoo

  • Brandon Buckner

    As someone who’s taught an Intro to Art History class (to mostly freshmen), I prefer that students use paper and pencil and interact with the discussion. Laptops are not necessary in classes I taught, so I didn’t feel that they were of any assistance to the class. Most freshman students come out of high school barely knowing how to put sentences together and the last thing I would want during an in-class essay is for someone to be receiving intel for the topic via twitter or email. These days, papers are jumbles of cut-and-pasted snippets culled off of museum websites, artnet, and wikipedia. If a student can’t put it aside for an hour, then I wouldn’t want them in my class either. People need to ween themselves from the constant chatter of twitter and the like and appreciate some things quietly. Now, if it was a survey on digital culture or art in the 90’s/00’s, then we have another story all together. Just my two cents.

  • http://twitter.com/kaitlinjmartin Kaitlin Martin

    Students will always find a distraction in a class when they are bored. If it’s not the internet it’ll be something else…capping the enrollment is a bad idea.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think this kind of thing can be blamed on a professor’s teaching style – screens are hard for anyone to compete with. (How often do our own friends check their phones during a conversation or a meal?)
    We’re in a transitional period when we are saturated with this technology, but the boundaries of when it’s appropriate to use it – and how – are not quite fixed, certainly not in a way that is agreed on accross generations. I think time will sort out these kinds of conflicts, with pressure coming from both directions, and some further degree of integration of technology into the classroom.

  • HateToNeedToDoThis BecauseOfYo

    Alexander Nemerov’s book on Raphaelle Peale is a work of genius. Anyone who has read it would never believe in a million years that his lectures could be anything less than mesmerizing. I see no problem with his policy. Professor Nemerov’s job is to share his knowledge with students; students go to Yale to learn from the best people in their fields. You can go to Starbucks if you want to surf the Internet. 
    In an art history class especially — a class which is taught in the dark with projected slides or PowerPoint presentations — no one wants to sit behind you, blinded and distracted by your bright screen while you look at anime pr0n on 4chan or chat on the facebook or read the Wikipedia. Trust me, I know.

    Apparently this issue here is that there is no other large capacity room available at Yale where the wifi can be turned off or is not enabled in the first place. One should not blame the professor for this structural problem. It is his knowledge that students are presumably hoping to absorb; he can certainly choose the conditions under which he is willing to share it. 

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Why are you leaving this comment anonymously? The email you provided is a joke. If you plan to chime in please use your name.

      • HateToNeedToDoThis BecauseOfYo

        Are you Liza Eliano’s boyfriend? Why are you attacking everyone who does not agree with her? If you are her boyfriend please help her by proofreading the articles in the future. His name is not “Professor Zemerov”.

  • http://twitter.com/rwetzler Rachel Wetzler

    Sorry, don’t see the controversy here. There’s nothing unreasonable about a professor wanting to teach without worrying if his students are on facebook the whole time. Plus, 270 students is still a huge class for a lecture course; it’s not as if Yale is only allowing 30 students to take the class because they can’t find a room without WiFi. This isn’t really “internet policing,” it’s a professor who thinks his students should actually be paying attention when they’re in his class. 

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I totally disagree with you. These are adults (not high school kids) and they get to choose the way they learn. I used to sketch in art history class all the time and I learned that way. I went to a big school, Univ of Toronto (50,000 student), and 500 (or 800) was not unusual for first-year classes and I didn’t mind them a bit. In fact, I enjoyed them.

      • http://twitter.com/rwetzler Rachel Wetzler

        You’re right, they’re college students, not children; no one can force them to show up to class, or to pay attention once they’re there. However, that doesn’t mean that the professor isn’t well within his right to remove an obvious potential source of distraction from his classroom, especially when there’s no need whatsoever for students to be online during a lecture. 

        • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

          There is a difference between sketching in class – esp if it’s art history, that’s a great way to take notes – and spending time on facebook, presumably not browsing the fan pages of art historians.
          As a professor who had to turn off the wifi in class and ban laptops for all except those with learning disabilities, the fact is that it is difficult to engage university students in class, and we don’t need them doing something so blatantly unrelated. The Yale professor’s choice may, however, be unwarranted – surely he could have signal turned off in the larger room, OR make very clear that use of facebook etc is not allowed in class.
          That said, I am a believer in integrating the internet, facebook, twitter, and the way we now interact digitally with the classroom experience. The balance in the future will be to combine the two things in a way in which students can learn better. I am still searching for that way.

      • http://twitter.com/BrianSherwinArt Brian Sherwin

        “they get to choose the way they learn”. Really? So if a student does not like the way a professor holds class he or she can demand a change in teaching style? “I think that term paper should be 3 pages instead of 30 because that fits my learning style teach.”. Not gonna happen…

        The way I see it… if you don’t like the program — transfer. This is making a mountain out of a mole hill. I understand the anger over the class size being reduced — but my guess is that this professor is acting on his experience. Why not trust that this professional is doing what is right for his profession and class based on past experience?

        Honestly, are we going to start treating college professors like we treat high school teachers? There is more controversy to be found in program bias against specific themes that a student may choose to explore in art — students who are told “that is not done here” just because the theme goes against the grain of the departments political/social vibe. Perhaps we should talk about that? Which is worse — a college student being told that he or she can’t access the Internet during a lecture OR a college student being told that they can’t explore specific themes?

        Situations like that happen more often than you might think. Yet it seems that every time those issues pop up people will go the ‘an art department should have a say in themes that are not welcome in the ‘culture’ of the department’ route. Interesting.

      • Anonymous

        They are adults and as such should be willing to accept that another adult wants to run things in a certain way. As adults they can either accept the restrictions or not. See, as adults they should understand that they will not always get everything that they want. They should even understand that sometimes they need to make a choice. So you are right, they should get to choose the way they learn but they cannot force anyone to teach them in that way. It doesn’t matter that they are paying tuition – these are professors, not prostitutes.

  • HateToNeedToDoThis BecauseOfYo

    Also, the sign-in process doesn’t ask for a name, just an email address. But it shouldn’t matter to you if I give you my name or not, there are at least 100 people in the US with my name – the comments I made did not attack anyone, they are just a response to the ideas expressed in the article. Are you employed by the department of homeland security surveillance sector for comments about the use of the Internet in art history classes or something?

  • Alissa Guzmán

    It seems like it’s easy to forget what it was like to be a student. I remember how hard it was to get into classes, and how frustrating an experience that was. Even with a BFA in photography I was not allowed to take a photo class in grad school because I happened to be in a different department. The rules and exclusions are detrimental for students, and most of the time I found it was more political and inter-departmental than having anything to do with me as a student. Class size regardless if internet concerns is, and always has been, a problem. Why make more restrictions? Break the class in half and offer two…although I doubt very much if the professor in question would enjoy that much. I also remember what it was like to be a student. Being type A most of the typical stereotypes didn’t apply to me, but even so I remember struggling to make it to my Friday morning art history classes. Being a student is a challenge, and it’s hard to focus, to care, to engage. Isn’t this true of all of us even after school? Just comes with the territory and perhaps the style of education we have in this country. Students don’t need the internet to not pay attention, they can simply sleep.

  • Alissa Guzmán

    It seems like it’s easy to forget what it was like to be a student. I remember how hard it was to get into classes, and how frustrating an experience that was. Even with a BFA in photography I was not allowed to take a photo class in grad school because I happened to be in a different department. The rules and exclusions are detrimental for students, and most of the time I found it was more political and inter-departmental than having anything to do with me as a student. Class size regardless if internet concerns is, and always has been, a problem. Why make more restrictions? Break the class in half and offer two…although I doubt very much if the professor in question would enjoy that much. I also remember what it was like to be a student. Being type A most of the typical stereotypes didn’t apply to me, but even so I remember struggling to make it to my Friday morning art history classes. Being a student is a challenge, and it’s hard to focus, to care, to engage. Isn’t this true of all of us even after school? Just comes with the territory and perhaps the style of education we have in this country. Students don’t need the internet to not pay attention, they can simply sleep.

  • Anonymous

    I am interested in this subject namely because the lecture class I took in 19th c. American Painting  taught by Alexander Nemerov was hands down the best class I ever took in college, art history or otherwise. He is a brilliant man and a riveting lecturer, one who moves seamlessly between the artworks themselves and the lives and times of the artists who produced them – referencing or reading aloud poetry or snippets of novels that were culturally contemporary, etc.

    We didn’t have laptops in classrooms when I was at Yale. But when I went through graduate school, we did, and every one of us was guilty of e-mailing, scheduling, researching, and even online shopping (those online sample sales are time sensitive!) during our classes. 

    Nemerov is not one who drones on and he is about engaging as they come; however, it is very tricky, perhaps impossible, to compete with internet distractions. The moment he turns a page or fiddles with the projector, off students will go to their computers. . . perhaps never to return their attention to the lecture in progress. And in response to a comment above, it is possible to do well in art history survey classes without paying attention in lectures, as so much of the test content is based on slide memorization. 

    I think Nemerov’s decision, if not commendable, is entirely understandable. The only difference between his audience of today and his audience of 15 years ago is that today’s has facebook and e-mail at their fingertips, whereas the older generation did not, a fact that allowed/forced them to pay attention and be inspired. Frankly I don’t see how more of the faculty is not feeling the need to move in this direction.

    • Alissa Guzmán

      I like your comment very much, and the first hand knowledge of the professor you bring to the discussion. I only take issue with the idea that not having facebook15 years ago meant you had to be engaged and focused. I think (I know!) there is a whole world of distractions out there in between sleeping and daydreaming and the entertaining internet. I don’t think anything about being bored in the past meant you had to be engaged and inspired. But I do think your final point raises some very interesting questions for teaching in the future.

  • Liza Eliano

    I totally agree with everyone commenting here that the distractions of the Internet are tough for any professor to compete with, but why only lay this on the students? Instead of just capping the class and restricting Wifi, shouldn’t there also be a discussion here on the part of the University and professors on how to handle this situation, whether it’s working on how the class is run or how the Professor engages with students. These distractions, the Internet, are not going away anytime soon, and I don’t think the answer should be just to shut down access and treat students like they can’t handle themselves with a computer. Plus, if a student really doesn’t care to pay attention during class, she will find other ways to zone out even without Facebook at her fingertips.

    The issue for me here, more so than the restriction to Wifi, is that students who want to take this class are being turned away when in the past most of them have not been due to a larger classroom that holds 450 people. 450 is a large number, and honestly as a student I would have second thoughts about being in a class that size, but students should at least still have the option, especially if the demand is there. An easy fix: ask students not to bring laptops to class and just take hand notes, and then the move to a smaller room wouldn’t be necessary.

    I want to stress Alissa’s point too that the politics, rules and exclusions of college education can be really frustrating. I recently graduated this past May, so they are fresh in my head. When you’re paying 50,000+ to go to college and tuition is increasing every year, I think you have every right to hold the University accountable for policies that limit your education.

    • Alissa Guzmán

      Also Liza, if you take away laptops and not the internet would the professor also want to ban phones? I don’t mean to bring up a slippery slope kind of argument, but it only seems logical. I know I can do everything on my phone that I can do on my laptop, including check fb, the news, email, etc. That seems like a bad way to go, as you might be able to get students to part with laptops phones would seem like a no go. And if the Wifi is blocked as the professor wishes and students are allowed to keep their phones and laptops, well what about all those distractions that keep us busy on the train, like games?

      Not that you have suggested this as much as other comments here, but I’m struggling with the assumption that disinterest has changed in some fundamental way because of the internet. Internet just seems to be a different outlet for it. How to cure disinterest has been the issue/problem/headache of every professor….ever, I would think.

      I agree with your first point above (“shouldn’t there also be a discussion here on the part of the University
      and professors on how to handle this situation, whether it’s working on
      how the class is run or how the professor engages with students”) and think it is the root of the issue, which as you say, is a fair issue for any teacher to have. Universities need to figure out how they plan to handle technology, and perhaps recognize that it has also done institutions a great deal of good.

      It’s also insult to injury to be a student up to your ears in student loans only to be told that you can’t take a class because the professor already assumes you don’t care about it enough to pay attention. 

      • Liza Eliano

        Hi Alissa,

        Good point, although I did have professors at my college who didn’t allow laptops in the classrooms, usually for smaller lectures. Phones though I think are a little trickier to get away with during class, and therefore not as much of a problem, because a professor could feasibly call you out for having your phone out, while with a laptop there’s no way to know – the student could just be taking notes. 

        I didn’t even consider distractions on a computer or phone that you don’t need Internet for, but again I think this is just further proof that distractions are endless and can’t really ever be totally wiped out, so why limit a class because of  it?

    • Anonymous

      So, Liza Eliano… you think that as professors we don’t think about how to teach our classes to students — we just go in there on auto-pilot and start talking out loud and see what happens?

      Like the article, this comment is so breathtakingly unresearched and unaware that it’s a little hard to engage with it. Let me just say that we professors go through an apprentice period of learning about pedagogy, go on retreats, and are required to reflect on our teaching once a semester when evaluations come in. Even those of us at R1 universities spend a lot of time thinking about how to get students engaged in our topic. However, with rampant grade inflation, we don’t dare penalize via grades, and many students at this age are still figuring out the intrinsic benefits of learning, so they aren’t necessarily self-motivated. That leaves a lot of us feeling like performers — turning our subjects into entertainment for students who have shorter and shorter attention spans thanks (yes) to the internet. It’s demoralizing, and there is a very marked difference between now and even just 5 or 6 years ago in the amount of sustained focus and concentration that students can muster. Yet we continue to reflect on ways to make our teaching engaging to today’s students. The idea that this is something Professor Nemerov — or “the university” — or professors at large, all over the country — haven’t been thinking about — that it hasn’t occurred to us — is silly. 

      • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

        Can you explain to me why every professor is thinking this post is about them?

      • Liza Eliano

        I’m afraid you are taking my comments completely out of proportion. Of course I understand the amount of work, scholarship, time and thought that goes into your profession, and no where do I even remotely suggest that this isn’t the case. But I’m sure you would agree that not every professor teaches or engages students at the same level.

        Also, No where did I suggest that Professor Nemerov, Yale or professors all over the country are not thinking about these issues or reflecting on how to teach to students. I’m rather pointing out that that dialogue, as far as in this particular case with Yale, is somewhat one sided with students being penalized for something that they may or may not do in class. I’d like to hear more than how you and other professors are dealing with “shorter and shorter attention spans.” When students don’t have access to internet in classes is there a huge difference? Is there another solution here rather than just capping the class? If that discussion is going on among professors, than I would be interested to hear it.

  • Sharon Butler

    The outrageous thing about this story is that Yale University, one of the most prestigious, expensive schools in the nation, enrolls 500 students per course (!) Perhaps I’ve been in the American Association of University Professors (aka The Union) for too long, but I’m also surprised that the professor can make the decision to limit enrollment to 270 simply by reserving a smaller room. I teach at a nearby state school where we cap enrollment in introductory art history courses at 40. When the course fills, we add another section. Rather than being outraged, students should be pleased that the class size has been reduced. They should lobby for more sections-not for a return to the larger room.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I loved big lectures. Am I the only one?

      • Sharon Butler

        Once the lights go out: zzzzzzzz

      • http://twitter.com/MatthewHTedford Matthew H Tedford

        I avoided them like the plague.

  • Andrena Moye

    Why not enroll everyone who wants to, and then kick out any student found disobeying class rules? Not being able to get into a class you want or need was the only thing I hated about college.

  • Anonymous

    re:  “(hint: Prof. Nemerov, maybe it’s YOUR fault)”Wow.  Professor Nemerov was by far the best professor & lecturer I have ever had.  I took 3 classes with him as an undergrad, and 10+ years later, I still follow his lecturing schedule and seek out the opportunities to hear him lecture again.   This statement is an empty accusation from someone who has clearly never sat in his class.  It is truly a shame that fewer students will be able to study under him.   He was the reason I majored in Art History, the reason I pursued graduate work in art history, and the reason I still work in the field.  I guess you can say that I’m living proof that he is a fabulous & inspiring professor.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Thanks for chiming in, Warrren81. We want more first-hand accounts. Also, keep in mind that not all profs connect with students the same way. He obviously spoke to something you responded to and bravo to him!

  • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

    I loved big lectures too, Hrag… but big to me was 100-200 students. I went to a small school in Providence and I remember our first few Art history lectures being that big.

    I think the professor is dead on with this, actually. The problem isn’t just the professor getting lack of attention from the students on their Internet, but other students being distracted by the internet use around them.

    I remember (this was when MySpace and AIM chat were big) people in these big lectures slapping away at their keyboards, chatting, snickering etc. I only ever attended classes with a pad and pen. that peripheral vision of the Internet activity always grabbed my attention and made it harder to focus on the lecturer.

    But I do see ways around this… I’m sure the fiends that can’t stay away from their devices and websites for an hour or two will just use their smartphones as mobile hotspots.

  • http://twitter.com/alexiskmanheim Alexis K. Manheim

    p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }

    As some other posters have mentioned, I think the danger
    here is when professors and universities chose to limit accessibility over
    finding a more thoughtful approach to handling laptop distractions in the
    classroom. I’m guessing Professor Nemerov isn’t the only one at Yale grappling
    with the problem of how to maintain an active and engaged atmosphere in the
    face of increasingly enticing and addicting online distractions. However, room
    selection/class downsizing is an odd way for professors and a university as a
    whole to take this on.  As others
    have said, the challenge for Yale and other universities will be to take a
    closer look at how students are using technology in the classroom and to decide
    whether the net effect of using these tools is indeed negative. In this case,
    was the decision to downsize the class due to some distractions really worth
    restricting access to over 200 students? My gut tells me probably not. This was
    a symptomatic approach to a deeper issue that is really about the changing roll
    of technology in student’s lives.

     

    One
    last thought… I also sat in Professor Nemerov’s class over a decade ago
    (pre-Facebook + Twitter) and found him to be an inspiring professor. Most of us
    felt this and as we scrawled notes on pen and paper the result was an
    incredibly focused and engaged group of students. I honestly doubt my
    experience would’ve been the same had I been staring into the myriad of
    distractions on my computer (or distracted by someone else’s). I do sometimes
    wonder if it is possible that this
    generation of students are actually equally engaged in the
    lecture while they are on their computers. Are they wired to handle
    more simultaneous imputs… allowing them to take in art history while reading
    Hyperallergic updates on Twitter? Professor Nemerov certainly doesn’t think so and, again, my gut tells me “no” … but perhaps not
    for long.

  • http://twitter.com/BushwickDaily bushwick daily

    I have something to admit here…. I used to surf the internet, sometimes even if the lecture was interesting…. Just because the internet is full of distractions, more than anything else :-)!! You open it and here is 6 messages on facebook, great article you must read on hyperallergic (ehm ehm), and I could go on like this forever. You know sometimes it’s a second and your concentration is gone… actually, even now i should be doing something else… so i don’t blame the professor. also i went to fordham, and almost every class had a cap, you just had to be fast enough to register. if not this semester, you might be lucky in the next one… also i don’t find 270 to be such a scandalous cap. and generally, i need interactive (i.e. small classes) otherwise i’m dying of boredom…. 

  • Kendrick Perkins

    Why doesn’t the professor just not allow laptops in class? There shouldn’t be any reason for a student to use the internet in an art history class. Taking notes by hand won’t kill the students. 

  • http://twitter.com/ShandraTeraise Shandra

    As somone who started college at the same time Facebook was exploding, I feel a need to share my experience and opinion.  For those of you who say that laptops are not necessary to take notes, think about how people born in the mid-80s and after grew up with technology.  I type exponentially faster and more accurately than I write by hand, and so do most others I know that are similar ages.  I found a laptop ESPECIALLY useful for art history classes because I could make each object its own paragraph, with a larger/bold font for the title, going back in to add the dates and artists in the exact format I prefer, etc.  After class, I could simply go online to find a picture of the object and insert it directly above the text.  Then, when it was time to study for those dreaded slide exams, my study guide was basically already done.  Did I occasionally go on facebook or check out a shopping site during class?  Of course.  But my generation and those younger than I am are basically trained to multi-task like nobody’s business.  If there aren’t at least two things going on at once, we can feel antsy and unbalanced.  It’s so easy to feel disconnected in a large lecture class, so professors must find new ways to engage these new types of learners.

    For students are spend all of class engrossed in random internet things, just let their grades suffer.  Include a participation grade, pepper your lectures with information and opinions that cannot easily be found on the internet, and include first-hand experience with the artwork or subject.  These are things that will show who is truly angaged and paying attention, and who is going to wikipedia once it’s time to write a paper or take the exam.

  • kristen windmuller

    “Professors should also realized that students spending time on the internet in class may be due to a lack of engagement (hint: Prof. Nemerov, maybe it’s YOUR fault).”

    As a former student of Prof. Nemerov’s at Yale, and now a PhD student in art history, I find this comment completely unfounded and offensive. 

    Prof. Nemerov is one of the most outstanding professors at Yale, both in lecture and seminar. His lecture course on American photography warranted applause at the end of multiple lectures; not just that required, blase applause that happens at the end of the semester in so many courses, but genuine, appreciative applause.  He is a captivating speaker, but also a kind person who values his students. In seminar, he listened to–and appreciated–the ideas and opinions of students, whether undergraduates or graduates, pushing them to further develop their thoughts rather than dismissing them in favor of his own, or simply letting conversation founder. His advice was instrumental in guiding me through the process of applying to graduate school, and I am thankful for having been one of his students. I know that he has had a positive influence on many others as well.

    Students spending time on the internet is NOT his fault, in any way. This is a problem anywhere, in any school setting, and frankly in any setting where we are perpetually plugged in and rewarded for our supposed ability to multi-task.

    At Columbia, where wifi is blocked in many of the lecture halls, students still find ways to work on projects completely unrelated to class, whether touching up their photos or perusing downloaded eBooks. At Princeton, undergraduate professors who can not block wifi often ask students who use laptops to email their notes to prove they were actually working, and not browsing Flickr, as many are, distracting themselves and others. As someone who has been in front of the classroom in a variety of settings, I can testify to how frustrating it is to be met with a veritable fortress of laptop backs with only a set of downcast, glazed eyes visible. Even tap dancing on a table might not wrest attention from flickering screens.

    Making a connection is a two-way enterprise, and unfortunately, technology can be a barrier to establishing those connections. I applaud Prof. Nemerov and Yale for taking the steps to create a classroom setting that insures that every student has an environment in which they can focus on what they’re there for–learning about art history.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Thanks for chiming in, Kristen. We love to hear as many perspectives as possible though I think it’s possible to learn about art history through technology and perhaps schools should find better ways to harness it. Either way, it’s a conversation I think that will continue for quite a while.

      • kristen windmuller

        Agreed, and it’s a fluid discussion that evolves as software/hardware evolve. Blanket rules and acts about internet use are of the moment because wifi access is the common denominator between all students’ computers; that might change. Personally, I use technology all the time for art history, but it requires self-restraint at times. The OS of an iPad, which allows for one screen to be open a time, enforces this well (not to mention, there are great note-taking apps now). Technology also affects the dissemination of information for art history, though in universities, where subscriptions to online databases, etc are generally free, this is much less of an issue. Where do open courses/simulcast courses lead this?

  • Ann LePore

    Wow! That’s an enormous class. I would never allow students to talk during a presentation because it’s disrespectful to me and to the other students who are listening or presenting. I feel the same way about texting or typing or playing video games or playing football in class. With a class that large, perhaps the students who would like to be present only casually while their attention is somewhere else, could have a friend video record the presentations, and then they could “multitask” on their own time so that the students who need to be able to concentrate could do so.    
    What is the difference between watching a video of a lecture or being physically present a one student in 300 or 400 or 500? For some this is a huge difference. Especially if students expect to ask questions and engage with their professors. For students of the University of Phoenix Online it might not be a big difference. But as far as I know, the Phoenix model has not yet been compared to Yale.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJYPFM24W2NK2WMCJKSHTDSVIA Jeff

    For the life of me I can’t understand why it matters what a student is looking at during an art history lecture.  The intelligent and mature student will be attending the lecture, the immature and foolish student will always find a way to be somewhere else.  The testing should separate the two fairly clearly.  If the student already knows the material to the level of the testing, then I don’t see they need to be commanded to pay attention.  Seems to me that if a student doesn’t know the material but is too dumb to listen, then chasing them around is just going to waste everyone’s time.  I would ban disruptive students for impinging on other’s access to the class.  I also think it would be a good idea to offer more sections.

  • Anonymous

    Having taught a survey art history course for the past 4 years to graphic design students (class size 10-25), I have observed that even though they were ‘plugged in’  they still had the ability to pay attention. My faculty director also had the same observation when she sat in on my class. As long as they weren’t distracting the other students I didn’t have a problem with it. We live in the era of multi-tasking and I think that the freedom to multi-task also increases alertness. I also agree that typing is much faster than taking notes by hand, although the clicking can be very annoying.

  • Krista Azzara

    You really can’t find anything better to complain about?  First of all, sure, it’s a student’s right to choose do the work or not but tuition is hardly the excuse that validates such disregard.  Maybe people should learn not to pay for things they aren’t going to use — including college education.  Or what general respect is.  Or when the customer is sometimes wrong.  Or what the real purpose of study is.  

    As for making class time or note taking more meaningful, perhaps they should try sketch noting.  It is an art class after all.

Previous post:

Next post: