CHATTING is the lifeblood of teens. When class is in session and no chatting is allowed, our iPhones, Samsungs, and Xiaomis come out to play.
Lianne is at the back row of class doing her jacket sleeve trick: her right hand has completely retracted into her sleeve, poking out only intermittently. In the darkness of the soft, warm fabric, her fingers are flying about, typing stuff on Telegram. She’s just sent me and our clique a photo of the physics teacher, photoshopped. He’s bald, but suddenly, he’s got a mop of hair. Clearly, all her digital diversions are a hindrance to the class in session, but she’s never been caught, neither have the rest of us.
Bash smartphones all you want and blame them for encouraging classroom misdemeanors. I’m going to be the first to join you, but I’m going to be just as quick in coming to their defense. If you agree with me that not all teachers are the most gifted clowns who can hold our attention, smartphones are a student’s savior not just for goofing around, but for conducting serious discussions as well. On several occasions, when a teacher is either pressed for time, or just hopeless, we girls take the initiative to launch a discreet discussion on our tiny backlit screens.
Once, someone shot a question to the chat group: “Does negative acceleration mean that the car is accelerating in the negative direction or decelerating in the positive direction?” There came a flurry of responses. Everyone was awake, everyone was tuning in, you’d never have believed we could be such an earnest brood of girls.
It is nearly impossible to imagine life as a student without a smartphone or a MacBook. Granted, many of us girls have mastered the devious art of turning that glazed look of watching Descendants of the Sun or playing Agario into a face of great concentration when class is in session. But thankfully, we’re equally gifted at discerning when to be serious and when to switch off.
In the serious mode, our laptops become teaching assistants who come to the rescue when the teacher is flying through class and has no time of day to elaborate, amplify, or just be nice. Try clarifying what “spatial variation” is in your physical geography class, and you’d hear the curt response: “Let me finish this first,” to which you retaliate by Googling the term, so that a parallel class is going on—one from Teacher-in-a-Rush, and the other from Google. It’s not exactly polite, but it’s prudent. Sitting through a muddle at point B would only make the muddle muddier by the time you arrive at Z at the end of class. So why wait?
In this sense, the MacBook is wonderful: we get to keep pace and never fall behind. Time may be bullying and pushing our teachers, but for us, our relationship with time feels more like a game of efficiency when we tap away on our MacBook for note-taking during lectures.
This beats longhand notes anytime because no one I know, among my contemporaries, has the kind of penmanship you’d swoon over. Besides, typing out notes gives you room to edit and add without the fuss of pencil scratches and sticky white tapes. Best of all, you could do group note-taking: Ellie could edit my lines, I could question hers, Jane could wrap everything up with her astute comments.
That’s the beauty of electronic devices: you can use word processing applications to cut-and-paste, drag-and-drop, duplicate multiple drafts, email it, share it on Dropbox, take it on a Google Docs platform. You can even gain access to the Facebook-like education platform called Edmodo. How about creating presentations on Powerpoint, or building Excel sheets?
Even as I write this—or more accurately, type—I can’t imagine any other way I could have conveyed my thoughts. Pen and foolscap just wouldn’t work. They haven’t for a long time now.
Lim Zhi Yi, Secondary Three
Names of students featured in this essay have been changed
For more essays by Zhi Yi, visit Zhi Yi Writes.
This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2015 exam, Question #4:
Do electronic devices, such as tablets or smartphones, help or hinder students in their studies?