Harvard Crimson: Students Constantly Checking Facebook in Class

Harvard University junior Hemi Gandhi calls it the Facebook Index.  The phrase describes what he has found to be a “widely-accepted phenomenon” at Harvard: students obsessively checking Facebook, news sites, and their email during class.

“The degree of Internet browsing . . . varies widely from class to class, and from student to student,” Gandhi writes in a new piece for The Harvard Crimson.  “However, by and large, Facebook during class has become so ubiquitous that no one even questions it.  Students and professors seem to accept this as a routine part of Harvard life.”

What are the root causes of this routine, one that certainly stretches to college classes far beyond Harvard’s ivy-covered campus?  In his Crimson article, Gandhi most prominently links students’ in-class Facebooking to the quality of the classes themselves and students’ desire to make the most of their time.

In an informal sampling, his Harvard peers told him they are most likely to check Facebook during a class session when “[a] professor starts regurgitating exactly what they’ve read in the textbook; paying attention won’t clarify confusion; a professor starts on a random tangent that is neither interesting nor relevant; students need a break to re-focus; students feel pressed for time and decide to multitask.”

In Gandhi’s words, “Harvard students are generally pragmatic and hyper-concerned about maximizing their Return On Time Investment.  During class, students will give their attention to whatever they think will give them the most utility in each moment. Past generations of students must also have wanted to maximize their ROTI during class. But technological innovation has provided today’s students with more options to do so in real time, via their smartphones and laptops.”

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