Saturday, February 28, 2015

7 Sustainability Secrets that Will Save the World

In case you missed it, check out my latest post on Huffingtonpost:  Seven Sustainability Secrets that Will Save the World.

I wrote the piece to guide a speech I am giving to the Hofstra University Model United Nations Conference on Sunday.  Can you think of other "secrets" that should be on the list?

Friday, February 27, 2015

New Jersey Settles 9 Billion Dollar Lawsuit Against Exxon Mobil for 250 Million

Click for photo credit.
Check out this story from the New York Times about the settlement of a long-standing lawsuit brought forward by New Jersey on damages to about 3 square miles of wetlands.  The area is heavily contaminated with petroleum products and other materials.

The cost to cleanup the site is about 2.6 billion dollars and the value of the loss of the land to the public is about 6 billion.

I have been watching these types of environmental lawsuits for years and I have never seen such a low agreement in a case like this.  Even if one only looks at the cleanup costs, Exxon is off the hook for about 2.4 billion dollars---money that the taxpayers of New Jersey will have to pay to clean up the property--if it ever gets cleaned up.  If this were your personal property you would have been able to recoup the cleanup costs AND the compensatory damages for loss of use.  In this case New Jersey settled for a shockingly low amount that doesn't come close to covering the cost of the cleanup.

A judge was about to rule on the case and would have probably given New Jersey much more money in the decision.

A big question that all of us should be asking is why did New Jersey give Exxon such a sweetheart deal?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

National Cave and Karst Research Institute Studies Home of World's Largest Bat Colony

Last fall, I wrote about a wonderful effort in Texas to preserve a unique cave that is home to millions of bats.  Check it out here.  Over the last several months, scientists from the National Cave and Karst Research Institute have been studying the guano (bat poop) deposits in Bracken Cave to better understand the history and habitat of the cave.

The cave is important because it is home to what is thought to be the world's largest bat colony.

Check out a video of their work here. A briefer video of images of the work is below.  However, follow the link for a greater description of the work.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fasting for the Climate this Lent

Click for photo credit.
Are you participating in Lent this year?  Each year, millions of Christians around the world observe the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter as a time of reflection and recommitment to the message of the Gospels.  Non-Christians often join in on the Lent season as a personal spiritual journey to reconnect with their beliefs and reflect on their role in the world.

If you are thinking about doing something around the Lenten season, Global Climate Movement has some suggestions for you.

According to their Website, the Global Climate movement defines themselves this way:

Concerned about man-made climate change and united by our Catholic fait, we have come together to care for God's creation, for the poor-who are the most vulnerable to climate disruption-, and for our children-who will face the worst impacts in the coming years-.  We encourage Catholics to renew our relationship with creation and with our brothers and sisters in poverty, and we urge our political leaders to commit to ambitious climate action to solve this urgent crisis and keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degree Celsius (relative to pre-industrial levels).

The group is encouraging individuals to sign up for a Lenten Fast.  You can read about it here.  While the term fast suggests slowing down on food consumption, the focus of the fast is multi-faceted.  For example, there are daily suggestions as to how to fast (such as recycling, avoiding consumerism, etc.).

Catholic or not, the Lenten Fast provides a late winter opportunity for reflection about our place in the world and how we can help to make the world a better place.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sunday Poetry Contribution by Stan Brunn

Here is a special contribution from noted geographer, Stan Brunn, from the University of Kentucky.  He is one of the most prolific writers in the field of geography.  We have been corresponding on a project and he sent along this poem which he gave me permission to publish. 
Snow Is Life/Life Is Snow
Stan Brunn

Snow, snow, all around
Makes us feel so snowbound.
For many are trapped with no escape
From this whitened snowscape.
Children, snow creations and at play
Adults adding numbers nine months to the day.
And what about this global warming
That our scientists said was a-coming?
In all this we confidently know
Whether out intellect is fast or snow
Snow is truly a great equalizer
Whether liberal or radical, youth or senior.
A think white frosting on earth-cake
That covers the sins and beauties we do make.
Did you see the trillions of snowflakes
Sewn together that a snow quilt makes?
And count those many shades of white
And hear the silent building of those mounds of height?
While we all experience polar bear hibernation
Some will discover a snowbound celebration.
Times for extra sleep and inner reflection
Reading, snow shoveling  and needed affection.
Thinking of the poor, those cold, and the hungry birds
And those seeking warm places and soothing words.
While these weather extremes we have no control
We know they affect our body, mind and soul.
Finding the lonely and kindred spirit
And the joys of snow that come with it.
Perhaps heavy snow is God’s embracing the earth
With beautiful and colorful new-found birth.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hibernating Spirit Bear Wakes Up!

The signs are all around us that spring is right around the corner.  Although we are in the midst of a major cold spell, it may prove to be the last one of the year.  The sun is brighter, the days are longer, and the cold doesn't quite seem so cold.  It's time to get out of hibernation like Apollo the Spirit Bear from British Columbia.

Spirit Bears are a subspecies of black bears that live in north and central coastal British Columbia.  They are more commonly called Kermode Bears.  About 10% of the Spirit Bears are born with a cream color coat.  The one below was caught waking up after a long winter hibernation.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Email 101 for College Students Part II--Advice from Readers

Earlier this year, I wrote a post called "Email 101 for College Students" that got a considerable amount of traffic.  You can read this post here.  My main goal in writing the post was to give students some good advice on how to communicate with university professors via email.

The post must have touched a nerve because I have received several comments on this post from faculty and friends from around the country.  I have condensed these and added my own thoughts to them below.

1.  Subject line.  Carefully construct a good subject line to communicate the purpose of your email.  I am probably the worst person in the world on this issue and I often forget to add a pithy subject line category which is probably why I didn't give good advice on this topic in the first place.  However, if you are writing about a particular class, a good subject line might be: Question on Assignment in SBLY 1.

2.  TIming of email.  Students are generally nocturnal creatures while faculty, for the most part, live in a 9-5 world.  Thus, email sent at 11:30pm will not be seen until 9am.  Between 11:30pm and 9am several other emails come into the In Box putting your email low on the priority list.  To fix this, set those late night emails for delivery at 8:00am.  The email will be the first thing Dr. Riseandshine will see in the morning and you will be seen as a bright eager hard worker while you are sleeping in waiting for the alarm to get you to your 11am class.

This is a good business habit overall.  Many companies are banning managers from sending emails after hours.  Late night email stresses employees and creates a negative work environment.  Think of how your email will be seen by the person receiving it.  Will the person be okay with late night emails or not?

I often work late and write emails to colleagues/students/friends.  Some emails I send out if I have a good relationship with the person or if they send me late emails first.  However, I always hesitate before hitting the send button at night.  It takes just a moment to set the delivery time and I often find myself choosing a morning delivery.

3.  Sincerity.  One of the best things you can do in email is to try to show sincerity and thoughtfulness.  When you are a busy college student or professor, it is easy to fall into the trap of brief text type emails that are droid-like communications between processors.  These types of emails lack sincerity and humanness.  When working with university faculty, try to show a bit of who you are.  Add good intros and closings to emails.  Open yourself up a bit about what you do and who you are as a person.  Below are two different emails.  Which one would you like to receive?

Example 1:

What day is the next exam?

Example 2:

     Dear Professor Brinkmann:
     I am sorry to trouble you with my small issue, but I lost my syllabus and I do not currently have access to the online course network.  Would you be so kind as to send me an electronic copy of the syllabus?  I am trying to ascertain the date of the next exam.
     I hope this note finds you well.  We only have a few more weeks of this cold weather.  I cannot wait for spring!

Which of the two examples would you respond to first?  If you were to recommend a student for a prestigious internship, which one would you recommend?  There is no doubt that the first example is the common form of email most professors receive today.  This is largely due to the native text language of our college students.  Yet we need to try to prod the students to become more humane in their communication skills in order to help them in the job market.  Taking a few moments to add a good intro and conclusion to your email (as well as a Dear Professor and a Sincerely at the beginning and end) goes a long way to make your emails stand out.

4.  Email/Call/Office Hours.  Do you really need to email?

I don't know about all university faculty, but I am finding myself overwhelmed by emails.  It started about 4 years ago.  About that time, everyone started sending emails on small issues--even issues that could be handled by getting out of a desk and walking a few feet down a hallway.  It is not that uncommon for me to get 100 emails a day.  Some companies have banned emails overall as inefficient ways to communicate.  I wouldn't go that far, but there is no doubt that there is way too much out there.

I do triage on email every day and save important thoughtful emails for the evening or weekends.  Quick emails I try to get done with quickly.

I am sure that I am missing some emails from students.  That is why I am urging everyone to think twice before hitting send on emails as of late.  Do you really need to send an email?  Would a quick phone call work?  Could you spend an extra minute finding the information on your own?

There is a major secret that most students do not know about university faculty.  They have office hours and students rarely come to them.  If you have the time and have a question, go see the professor.  Such meetings build bonds that will help you get letters of recommendation, internships, and other good things.  While an email might be a quick way to get an answer, an office hour visit pays off much better.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is the University of Wisconsin System Following the Florida Model?

Me at my alma mater, UW Oshkosh, December, 2014.
I have been getting emails from many leaders of the Wisconsin University System as of late asking me to contact Wisconsin legislators and other political leaders to express my concern over the proposed 16% budget cuts to the system. I received my undergraduate degree in geology from UW-Oshkosh, my MS in Geology from UW-Milwaukee, and my Ph.D. in Geography from UW-Milwaukee and I am very appreciative of the quality education I received.  There is no doubt in my mind that the UW System is one of the best in the world.

Before I get into the cuts, let me just review what makes the Wisconsin system so successful.  The system has always had good vision and planning from the top.  The goal has always been to provide solid educational offerings throughout the state that do not duplicate each other and that promote economic development while supporting broad strong liberal arts education.  The targeted nature of the system allowed for specialization of programs with national reputations.  For example, UW-Whitewater is one of the best schools in business, UW-Green Bay is one of the best schools in theater, and UW-Milwaukee is one of the best urban focused universities in the world. At the same time, the flagship campus at Madison is one of the world's leading research universities and is consistently ranked in the top 10 public schools in the U.S.

Currently, Wisconsin is undergoing a budget shortfall.  One of the remedies that is suggested by the Governor is to cut the system budget by 16%.  The Governor says that the cut is much smaller--2.5%.  Let's break this down a bit.

Universities get a considerable amount of funding from granting agencies like the National Science Foundation to conduct research.  The governor is counting this money in his total university budget.  Of course, this money cannot do what the state money does--deliver courses to students.  Universities also get a considerable amount of money from donors--again this money is being counted in the total budget dollars to get at the 2.5% figure.  Again, this money cannot be used to deliver courses.  Donors give money for scholarships and to build buildings--not to pay faculty to teach.

The reality is that the UW System will be taking a double digit hit.  They are receiving a 16% cut in the money they receive from the state.

This is a budget figure that is all too familiar to me from my days teaching at a big public university in Florida.  Over 23 years I saw budget cut after budget cut (many of them double digit) to the point that today the state funding for public education is a small part of the university budget.  

Was this good for public education in Florida?  

When I left, we had courses with 1200 students taught by an instructor.  Raises were rare and small.  The administrative support for faculty and chairs was limited. Administrators were overworked or worse.  There was a widespread movement of tenured faculty (including your's truly) out of the state.  Plus, the state disbanded central planning of universities which led to regional chaos and competition that caused many problems throughout Florida.  

Don't get me wrong.  There are great things going on at Florida Universities despite the lack of state support and administrative leadership.  Yet, I don't think many would look to Florida as a model for how to run a great educational system.

I totally understand the difficulty in balancing budgets and I am sympathetic to the notion that universities have to have a share in budget cuts to ensure fairness.  But before Wisconsin enters a path of double digit budget cuts, I hope leaders take a hard look at what happened to the Florida system over the last 20 years.  Do Wisconsinites really want to go down that path?  

The UW system is one of the most respected institutions of higher learning in the world.  I hope they keep it that way before they suffer the same fate as the Florida system.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Redwood National Park

Today I continue my series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks. In this post we go to Redwood National Park in California. 

I'll run through all 59 National Parks in alphabetical order. If you have any photos that you would like to share from any national park that I could post, please send them along. Following the photos, you'll find links to previous On the Brink posts of the National Parks. Check them out to see the beauty of the U.S. National Parks as captured by visitors.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
North Cascades National Park
Olympic National Park

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Green Valentine

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Today is my blogoversary.  My first On the Brink Post was on Valentine'd Day in 2011.  Since then, I've written nearly 1000 posts on this blog--making this one of the most content-rich green blogs on the Internet.

On my blogoversary, I always like to repost the first entry since it gets at the heart of what I am trying to do with my writing here.  While I try to make this blog informative, I also try to make it fun.  Most green blogs are dreary affairs that seem to have a "In the Arm of an Angel" by Sara McLachlan playing in the background.  They are full of bad news about climate change, species loss, or environmental justice.  While these issues are important, and I do cover them on this blog, my tone is very different.

I love humanity with all of its flaws.  While we must all strive to make the world a better place, I try to show that we can do so with a sense of humor.

Happy Valentine's Day.

From February 14, 2011:

I asked my students to come up with a list of 10 ideas for individuals who were looking for green approaches to celebrating Valentine's Day.  Here are their top 10:

10.  Shower together.  This is an obvious one.  However, it is not green if you stay in a long time and use up all the hot water.

9.  Break up.  We know that one aspect of sustainability is the reduction of consumption.  If you are not dating or married during Valentine's Day, there is no need to buy anything.

8.  Candles.  Nothing says romance like turning out the lights and having a candlelit evening.

7.  Plant a love tree.  Did I mention that I teach in Florida?  This one is a bit hard in the north.  Do not use lots of power to thaw out the ground to get this one done!

6.  Pot Luck Super Party.  I love this idea!  Why not share the love and have a potluck with all of your friends and family?  To make it even greener, make it meatless!

5.  Picnic.  Nothing says sustainability like finding a romantic place outside to have a picnic!  Did I mention I teach in Florida?

4.  Grow your own flowers.  Most flowers purchased during Valentine's Day are not grown locally.  Their transport uses lots of greenhouse gases.  So, go ahead and show your love.  Plant some flowers!  Nothing says romance like a garden!!

3.  Go for a tandem bike ride.  For those in the north, there are toboggans.

2.  Farmers market dinner.  Go together to a farmers' market and browse for things to cook together.  You'll be eating local and supporting local business.

1.  Catch and kill night.  A big tenet of the modern sustainability movement is eating local.  Plan an outing by going fishing or hunting with your loved ones and eat what you catch!  For the vegetarians, see 2 and 6 above.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Apple and Google Search for Green Energy

Click for photo caption.
We rely on utilities to provide our energy.  However, they have been widely critiqued for not moving fast enough into renewable energy sources for their customers.  As a result, many consumers have taken energy production into their own hands by building solar or wind systems for their homes.

The corporate world is also becoming less reliant on traditional utilities.  It was reported this week that Apple and Google were each building green energy projects to power their corporate operations in California.  I expect that this trend will continue given that utilities are not rising to the green energy challenge.  Most Fortune 500 companies are way ahead of the rest of society in infusing sustainability concepts within their business model.  The fact that Apple and Google need to build their own green energy power plants demonstrates that major American utilities are behind the curve in social trends.

At the same time, it is important to point out that this move is a bit of greenwashing.  Apple is often critiqued for its offshore labor practices.  Plus its general marketing approach to selling disposable electronics does little to solve the largest sustainability problem in the U.S.--overconsumption.

So good for Apple and Google in going all in on green energy.  However, green energy is only one component of corporate sustainability.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Mr. Darwin

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Today is the international celebration of the birthday of Charles Darwin. He is undoubtedly one of the most influential individuals in the history of science.

Why you ask?

In my mind it is all about time and rates of change over time.

We all know that he published On the Origin of the Species in 1859.  The publication of that book set the world's scientific thought on fire.  Today the focus of the book is on one important aspect of the book--evolution.  Yet, in my mind, the undercurrent of the transformative book is time.

Up until 1859, many looked at the Earth as a complete place--unchanged forever since creation.  There was little understanding of the changes that could take place on the surface of the Earth--much less in individual species.  Indeed, there was little understanding of earth surface processes such as glaciation, sediment transport, coastal change, plate tectonics, etc.

But after Origin of the Species, geologists and other Earth scientists started to look at the evolution of the Earth much more closely.  While other contemporary scientists in the 19th century fully understood that the earth evolved with time, there was not broad acceptance of this concept.

Today, the idea of earth's evolution is widely accepted.  In fact, we now understand that our planetary history is closely linked with the evolution of life on Earth.  From the formation of Precambrian banded iron formations to the continued evolution of our atmosphere, it is now abundantly clear that the Earth evolves as life itself evolves.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Email 101 for College Students

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When college professors socialize, one topic of conversation that sometimes emerges is the poor state of student email protocol.  We often bemoan the informal and often disrespectful tone of emails we receive from students.  We all have gotten emails that start with something like:

     "Hey Professor,"

or my favorite:

     "Hey teach,"

Plus, many of the emails are in text format such as:

     "Late to class CU 2day later."

Or have open ended information such as in the above.  When exactly am I supposed to CU and why should I care? And who is ""?

I am not someone who takes offense to these informal emails.  After all, our students live in a digital text world.  This is their native tongue.  

I just feel sad for students that communicate in this way.  While most students communicate very clearly, effectively, and professionally, there is a large group of students who seem to not understand that the way they communicate to university faculty is inappropriate and gives a very bad impression.  They are woefully unprepared for the real world of professional communication.  In addition, they do not understand that it is inappropriate to communicate to professors in such an informal tone.  

Professors are the gatekeepers for the professional world and we can unlock doors and provide opportunities.  We are unlikely to do so for individuals who do not communicate professionally.

Plus one of the things we hear most often from employers is that college students need better communication and writing skills.  We have an obligation to help students with poor email skills.

So, I thought I would give a quick primer for students on how to communicate to university faculty via email.

Here is a basic email format that can be followed:

Dear Dr./Professor X (use a title and full last name, even if you are on a first name informal basis):  

The reason that I am writing to you is [insert reason] (You need to state the reason for the email.  Professors can get dozens of emails from students each day and your email is not special. You need to be clear as to the reason why you are writing).

I have [insert #] questions regarding the [homework, syllabus, class content, etc.].  They are: [insert questions].

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my email (a polite sign off is appropriate in all emails).


[name, class title, time] (Make sure you use a full first and last name.  Professors may have several Mark's or Andrea's in the class.  Add the class title and time.  Professors may be teaching multiple courses or multiple sections of the same course and this information provides context to your email.)

The above email might take more time, but it is much better than:

     "hey teach my assignment will be late will it hurt my grade if i turn in 2morrow"

Although it might be unfair, most professors will react negatively to a text style email like the one above and be much more sympathetic to a student who communicates much more professionally.

For students asking for letters of recommendation, formality is imperative.  Along with a formal email, student should also include a copy of their resume, information about the position to which the student is applying, and full addresses/instructions as to how to submit the letter of recommendation.

I hope this helps some of the students out there!  I know that most students are not taught how to communicate to professors in school.  Just remember that texts and informal emails are fine for friends and family.  They are not appropriate for professors or the workplace.  At least initially.  Once you have built a relationship with a professor or an employer, communication can become much more informal.  If you are unsure as to the best approach, go formal.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Celebrating National Libraries Day

My father and other Village of Waterford board members breaking
ground for the Waterford Library building, the village's first
permanent library.  My father is the third one from the right.
Today is National Libraries Day and it is one of my favorite days of the year. I have a deep love for libraries and they have always been important in my life.

My first memory of a library was the small library in Waterford, Wisconsin, the little village where I spent my childhood.  At the time, the library was in someone's home.  There was an old man in charge.  I can still smell the books in my memory.  My father was on the Board of the Village of Waterford at a time that this small library was deemed too small.  This is a photo of him with the other Village Board members breaking ground for the new library (which was subsequently replaced a generation later).  He is the third one from the right and looking very much in 1960's Mad Men style.  As I got older, I spent a considerable amount of time in the library my father helped develop.  My mother, and avid reader, would send me and my siblings out to the library to get her books weekly.  It was, in part, probably an excuse to get us out of the house, but I never minded the chore.

Chronologically, my next favorite library is the Golda Meir Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  This is the home of the amazing American Geographical Society Collection, one of the best collections of rare maps and books in the world.  While working on my Master's and Ph.D., I would spend considerable time studying in that space.  One of the librarians who worked there, the late Howard Deller, used to show me some of the treasures of the collection when I needed a break.

I also have to give kudos to the library at the University of South Florida.  It was one of the first university libraries to fully embrace the electronic age.  From the great librarians there, especially Todd Chavez, I learned that libraries are not just buildings with books, but that they have an important role in building and curating collections of material.  These collections, while often physical collections, can also be electronic collections.  I worked with Todd and others in establishing the Karst Information Portal, an online digital archive of karst knowledge from around the world.

The Harris-Manchester Library at Oxford.
While my time at Oxford was brief, the libraries there made a great impression on me.  And I do mean libraries.  Oxford has many libraries and I didn't get a chance to see them all.  Some were modern and functional like any American university library--no wasted money on beauty or embellishments.  Others were spectacular and inspirational.  I will always treasure my time in the Harris Manchester Library at Oxford where I had late night access and I worked alone in that lovely place.  Sue Killoran, the Fellow Librarian there, follows in the path of many university librarians:  helpful, kind, thoughtful, and very intelligent on a wide array of subjects.

There are many things I like about the Hofstra University Library.  The people who work there are incredibly helpful.  I am particularly fond Geri Solomon and all the folks in Special Collections.  They were among the first people to help me acclimate to Hofstra and they have a wonderful sensibility about their collections and their displays.  One of the faculty librarians, Alan Ballin has been very supportive in building up the sustainability book collection and even puts up an annual Earth Day book display at the main entrance to the library.
Me in my favorite library
at home in Long Island.

The Port Washington library, my local library here in Long Island, has to be one of the best community libraries in the country.  The space is lovely for writing.  The library has an art gallery, conference and meeting rooms, a lecture room, and great collections.  There are also views of Manhasset Bay.

Finally, my home office and library is perhaps my favorite place in the world.  Mario put this space together for me and I really treasure it.  As part of National Libraries Day, library enthusiasts are asked to post a selfie of themselves in their favorite library and here is my selfie at home today.

What are your memories of libraries?  What is your favorite library or librarian?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Unplugging the Classroom

Click for photo credit.

Many professors of a certain age remember the days before cell phones and computers when classrooms were all about the lecture.  Remember overhead carts?  The smell of mimeographs?  Slide projectors?

I was among the first to write my dissertation on a computer (a Commodore 128) and I have embraced technology more or less throughout my career. 

When computers and the Internet came on board, I was able to improve the content of my lectures by delving deeper into content and creating live links in lecture slides that allowed me to explore the Internet live in my class.  I embraced the Internet as a teaching tool and encouraged students to use their computers and cell phones in class to surf the Web and explore content.  After all, I liked to do the same thing at conferences.

At first this approach went well.  Students seemed to follow along and when they were surfing they were surfing course material.  However, I, along with many of my colleagues started to notice a very bad trend.  We started to have students that surfed Facebook, E-bay, Netflix,  and even dating sites during class.  It wasn’t just one or two students.  It was a relatively large number.  Plus, students were texting like crazy during class.

I have never been a control freak in my classroom.  If a student isn’t paying attention, I could care less.  Their loss.  I’ve always felt that students have a right to pay attention or not in class as long as their behavior isn’t bothering anyone.

And this is the issue with surfing the Web and the Internet.

At a recent faculty meeting, one of my colleagues brought to our attention a report that demonstrated that a multitasking student on a laptop and those surrounding the student performed worse on retention and exams than others (for a broader discussion of the report and other issues with laptops in the classroom click here). 

So while I don't care what an individual student does to hurt himself or herself, the behavior online does impact other students.

As a result, this semester I instituted a no phone and no surfing policy in class.  I let students take notes on their laptops, but I hammered home that surfing the web hurts people around them and asked them to only have a word processing program open on their laptops.

The students have been very receptive to this policy.  Indeed, I get a sense that they are more relaxed and less stressed from multitasking during our time together.  They also seem to be more engaged with the material that I am presenting. 

I had clear evidence of this difference last week.

In one class, I had a student add late and he was late to class the first day that he was present.  The entire rest of the class knew of my laptop policy.  When he came in, I was mid-lecture and didn’t have time to explain the policy to him.  He fired up his laptop and the surf was up.  He was typing away on something unrelated to class and I could see in the reflections that he had multiple windows open and was multitasking.  He was paying half attention.  He looked up once in a while, but was hardly as engaged as the other students.  To me, this was clear evidence that I was on the right path with my laptop policy.  He was in an Internet fog while the rest of the class was present with me in a discussion of the content of the course.

I am hardly a luddite and I do see the benefit of students using the Web in classes in some situations.  However, I do not think that a wide open classroom laptop or cell phone Internet policy is good for students.  We only have class together a few hours a week.  There are ways to build Internet assignments into a course.  

Creating an Internet-free classroom is surprisingly refreshing.  I would love to hear from my fellow profs to learn about their policies and experiences.