Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Laptop Use in the College Classroom

There are some courses in the university where laptops are essential items for students in the class. My class is not one of them. Generally, my classes are lecture-oriented with a measure of discussion. If I need to refer to something on the internet, I use my laptop to connect and then flash the material on the screen at the front of the room with the boxlight projector.

I never really cared about laptop use until about 3 years ago. I started noticing that my students were not paying attention as well with their laptops open and that I was having to compete with Instant Messenger, Facebook, email, and a host of other distractions. One of our other religion classes also had a minor incident of a student visiting a website that was a bit offensive to his fellow students.

At this point I decided to implement a policy (stated in my syllabus) that forbids use of electronic devices in my classes. This includes cell phones, mp3 players, iPods (amazing that I had a student once listening to her iPod while I was lecturing!). Of course, I do allow for laptops and recording devices if a student has a special need for its use.

This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my attention today. It seems to confirm what I have suspected for some time now; that students make better grades if they leave the laptops closed and pay attention to the lecture.


Students Stop Surfing After Being Shown How In-Class Laptop Use Lowers Test Scores
Professors increasingly frustrated by students who use laptops for non-class activities—like updating their Facebook pages—may be heartened by news from the University of Colorado at Boulder. A professor there has found that educating students about the negative effect that frivolous laptop use has on their performance reduces class time spent going walkabout on the Web.

Diane Sieber, an associate professor, teaches writing and ethics to engineering undergraduates. She told the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper that last semester, she identified 17 students in one of her classes who were using laptops most frequently. After the first test, she told them that they did 11 percent worse, on average, than their peers who did not have their faces in their computers as much.

Lo and behold, the number of laptop-nosed students dropped to a half dozen, and the test scores of those who stopped using their computers during class went up.
Ms. Sieber says she also tries to tell students about the effects their behavior has on others in the class. Students “ask their classmates, ‘Please don’t watch movies on your computer, because if I’m behind you I can’t focus,’” she told the newspaper.

As the number of wireless-enabled classrooms increases—at Boulder it has gone from about 15 percent to about 85 percent in the last several years, according to the report—the laptop-related challenges facing the people up at the front of the room has gone up as well. Several law-school professors, The Chronicle has reported, have banned laptops from their classrooms. Laptop-free zones have been ordered by law-school instructors at Florida International, Georgetown, and Harvard Universities, and the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin.

But other instructors find bans hard to enforce, and also find that Web access can enrich classroom discussions. A recent survey of 29,000 students at 85 law schools supports this notion. It may be that treating students as grown-ups and letting them see for themselves what helps and what hurts them in class, as Ms. Sieber has done, results in students who make smart decisions. —Josh Fischman


Monday, March 16, 2009

What is Their "Fair Share?"

The Republicans (the party of choice for rich C.E.O.s) has been complaining about President Obama's plan to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to the levels that they were during the Clinton administration. This will be a change of 35% to 39.5%. Some wackos have even being calling President Obama a "Socialist."

Oh really?

Get this. At the end of Ronald Reagan's first term in office do you know what the tax rate was for the wealthiest Americans? 50%

Do you know that under Richard Nixon the tax rate for wealthy America was 70%?

Under Dwight D. Eisenhower the rate was 91%.

Above is a chart prepared by Moveon.org to show a comparison between what President Obama is trying to do and the tax rates that existed since the Great Depression.

With the latest news of AIG bonuses being paid out with taxpayer money, it is time for all Americans to stand up and say "enough!"

It is time for the wealthiest 1% of American society, as well as the large corporations to pay their fair share back to society.

Oh, and by the way, the Obama budget cuts taxes for 95% of all Americans. That's how it should be. The wealthy ought to pay more than the middle class. It's not socialism. It's common sense!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rush Limbaugh and the Religious Right

Robert Parham, Executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics has an excellent editorial on Rush Limbaugh and the Religious Right that appeared in the "Washington Post" today. I wanted to promote it through my blog today as well. He raises a good question: Why does the Religious Right embrace Rush Limbaugh so heartily when Limbaugh's life and thought are so obvioulsy contrary to basic Christian morality?

Here's the link:


Here's the article:

Robert Parham
Limbaugh's Unrighteous Hold on Christian Right

Rush Limbaugh told what he thought was a joke to a cheering crowd at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative activists and politicians. In his rambling remarks televised on FOX News, Limbaugh said that when Larry King died, he went to heaven and was met at the gates by Saint Peter. King's one question was: "Is Rush Limbaugh here?"

"'No, he's got a lot of time yet, Mr. King,'" said Limbaugh, pretending to be Peter.

"So Saint Peter begins the tour," said Limbaugh. "Larry King sees the various places and it's beyond anything we can imagine in terms of beauty. Finally, he gets to the biggest room of all, with this giant throne. And over the throne is a flashing beautiful angelic neon sign that says, 'Rush Limbaugh.'"

The audience laughed.

Limbaugh said, "And Larry King looks at Saint Peter and says, 'I thought you said he wasn't here.' He said, 'He's not, he's not. This is God's room. He just thinks he's Rush Limbaugh,'" said Limbaugh.

The crowd erupted with laughter, applause and hoots. Conservatives thought it was hilarious that God would envy the rival deity named Rush Limbaugh. Not a boo, not a hiss, not a grumble was heard from the crowd.

While CPAC was a secular event, it was an event sponsored, supported and attended by Christian Right organizations and leaders. The CPAC program listed as co-sponsors: Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council and Liberty University's law school. Exhibitors included the Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Council and Regent University's Robertson School of Government. Focus on the Family held a reception for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.

No doubt, a lot of conservative Christians were in the room. Days later, no Christian Right leader has objected to Limbaugh's claim to be bigger than God, a claim similar to what John Lennon said in 1966.

When Lennon said, "We're more popular than Jesus," Bible-belt Christians roared with anger. They burned Beatles records, banned Beatles songs on the radio and boycotted Beatles concerts. They tolerated no rival claims to the messiah. When Limbaugh uttered a parallel claim, those who see Christianity under attack offered no response. No cry of cultural hostility toward religion was heard. No demand for an apology boomed from pulpits. No boycott was launched.

Why is that?

Why is it that the Christian Right reacted with such reverence to a man who, through thinly disguised humor, disclosed his prideful self-perception and espoused a worldview that counters the biblical witness? Are they afraid of Limbaugh? Are they afraid of his followers who pack their pews?

What explains the fact that Limbaugh can speak untruthfully, and yet he goes unchallenged by conservative Christians? He certainly spoke untruthfully at CPAC when he said that conservatives did not see other people with contempt. Yet he exhibited contempt in his comments about Senators Harry Reid and John Kerry.

When Limbaugh asserted that President Obama "portrays America as a soup kitchen in some dark night," that he wants to destroy the United States and that he was fueling "class envy," his untruthfulness went unchallenged. Limbaugh claimed, "We don't hate anybody." Yet he proceeded to speak hatefully about Obama, defending his statement that he hoped Obama failed, which was hardly endearing speech.

If truth telling isn't a conservative value, what about unbridled greed? Is greed a Christian concern? Limbaugh defended greed. He defended the conspicuous consumption and the corporate mismanagement of Merrill Lynch's former CEO John Thain as a way to defend capitalism.

Limbaugh asserted the primacy of excessive individualism. Again and again, he preached a radical individualism--the rights of the individual are transcendent. Never did he advocate sacrifice for another or urge his audience to avoid the pursuit of one's rights for the well-being of others.

Limbaugh's agenda had no room for the parable of the Good Samaritan, perhaps no longer a valued Christian narrative. Is Rush Limbaugh's agenda in sync with the moral values and vision of conservative Christians?

Given the thunderous silence of Christian Right leaders about Limbaugh's worldview, one wonders if talk radio's man of excessive individualism and political extremism has replaced the biblical witness as a moral compass.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Frank Schaeffer takes on the Republican Party

Franky Schaeffer's father and mother were "founders" of the Religious Right in America, along with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye, and James Dobson. Franky Schaeffer was right along side of them in the decades of the 70s -90s. As late as the 2000 presidential election he was still trying to get Republicans elected.

That was then. Now, he has completely turned his back on the Religious Right and the Republican Party. In 2007 he wrote a book called "Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, And Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of it Back."

In the link below, Schaeffer, now a blogger for the Huffington Post, slams the Republican Party and more particularly Rush Limbaugh. He takes them all to task for creating the mess the nation is in both economically and militarily and then having the audacity to hope that the president "fails" in his attempts to lead our nation out of the crisis. He calls Rush Limbaugh the new "Hanoi Jane" in American society.

Good for him! It is encouraging to see more and more Americans (especially former Republicans) standing up to oppose the failed economic and military policies that the last 8 years brought us! And all the Republican leadership can do is say that they hope the president fails! Will the "real" patriotic Americans please stand up?

Strong stuff! Read the post for yourself here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-schaeffer/open-letter-to-the-republ_b_172822.html