University of Washington professor David Levy has been making headlines because of the way he starts class. Instead of a quiz or just launching into the discussion or lesson for the day, he begins each class period with 15 minutes of doing nothing.
The course, titled “Information and Contemplation,” then allows students 20 minutes to check email (exclusively) while the computer camera and recording software measures their body language and browsing habits.
While this sounds nice in theory, and the class is actually growing in popularity, I’m not sure how beneficial I find it overall. The point is to have students focus on the task at hand instead of trying to work on many different projects at once, and I think that’s a really good idea. As a student and young person, I know that I find myself trying to balance multiple tasks at once, rotating between them or rewarding myself after I finish part of one. I don’t regularly work on various homework assignments at once, but I definitely take breaks to respond to emails. So I get the point of it, but at the same time, I don’t.
It seems almost like a waste of time to do this. Last year, one of my classes calculated how much an individual class session costs, depending on how many days a week it is. I don’t remember how much specifically, but I know that it was at least a couple hundred dollars. And considering how long most class periods are, using 35 minutes as a way to regain focus doesn’t really leave much room for learning, unless this is a three-hour night class one day a week, for example.
I think that Levy is on to something with his concept, but I can’t fathom taking this class and not feeling like it was a waste of time. I think that it would be completely beneficial for students to learn these skills to help them focus, since I’m sure many of them could use the guidance, but it feels like the math doesn’t add up to make it worthwhile overall. Students who really want to learn this skill could try to go about it themselves without the help of Levy. Although I am speculating, I feel like I would not even be able to relax because I’d not only be thinking about everything I needed to do but also because I’d sit there, being frustrated that I couldn’t even start working on a project. I don’t feel frustrated about everything going on if a class period is beneficial and I feel like I got something out of it.
On the other hand, learning these skills may be something difficult to master without guidance, which may be why Levy has structured his class in this way. Personally, I think the best solution would be to slowly shorten and eliminate the time spent doing this each class period, and perhaps only doing the activity one day a week would be a nice compromise. This way, students would have the guidance of Levy but would still have plenty of time to learn other materials. This might even help them feel like they can master the skill on their own, similar to how counseling patients often receive advice and guidance on how to master a skill of their own, such as overcoming anxiety. They might try different methods in counseling, and Levy could even feature something like that in his own class, although I do realize they’re slightly different.
Students at ISU who might feel like this is something they’d be interested in should look into what ISU offers as methods of learning to adjust to working on one project at a time or learning how to relax. Student Counseling Services is a great choice, especially since the Relaxation Room offers benefits of learning how to relax that are personalized. Even different RSOs on campus try to help students with this, so there are options available.
Grace Johnson is a senior publishing major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding her column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.