Guest Lecturer at Saint Joseph University’s Higher Institute for Banking Studies

A few weeks ago, I was invited to deliver a free-form lecture to third-year banking students enrolled in l’institut supérieur d’études bancaires at Beirut’s prestigious Université Saint-Joseph in Monot. I jumped at the chance to address the next generation of Lebanese bankers. The only stipulation was that I weave in my working knowledge of social media, blogging, and communications in the context of a corporate institution, namely a bank.

I’d recently become aware that today’s students don’t come from the same cloth as us, their predecessors. We may be separated by a mere decade, but the academic environment that dominated during my collegiate years would be wholly foreign to these fledglings.

How did I know? During my tenure at Bank of Beirut, I helped spearhead and implement a novel MBA program in Banking Operations at another local university. Based on my direct interaction with students in that program, in addition to the input I gleaned from colleagues delivering courses there, the vast majority of students – even those at the graduate level – lack focus, dedication, and motivation. They’re constantly on their smartphones and have the attention span of a goldfish.

I remember sitting down with the dean and having a heated debate over the caliber of these recruited students. I blamed the university for not doing enough to attract Lebanon’s best and brightest, while he retorted that this so-called detachment and negligence in the classroom setting was endemic to an entire generation of students. Kids these days don’t feel the urge to study or take notes or participate interactively in class sessions. Attendance is merely a formality, but if they absolutely have to be present for roll-taking purposes, their minds are checked out and hovering over whatever content their phones hold.

Thus, I was earnest to discover whether this alleged epidemic was in fact true. After all, I’d always entertained notions of becoming a professor, so now was my chance to see whether I’d enjoy it in the here and now.

My two-hour lecture, facilitated by Nouchka Boustany who inaugurated the course, was scheduled on a Wednesday evening at 6:45 PM. The roster reflected a healthy ratio of females to males, and most of them were fairly punctual. The instructor introduced me before ceding the podium, and I started to unpack my story, using a PowerPoint presentation as a visual aid to guide the talk.


Delivering a lecture at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut


Almost immediately, I noticed that at least half the class wasn’t making eye contact with me. As a matter of fact, students were glued to their phones. Even though the nature of the talk was intriguing with real-world implications – nothing more relevant than social media! – my audience was dividing their attention between different media.

I spoke about my background, starting with my Lebanese-American origins, my education, my pull to Lebanon in 2011, landing a job, my seven-year career at Bank of Beirut in the capacity of a strategist, and so on. I gave advice about networking, seizing opportunities, transforming stumbling blocks into stepping stones, and never giving up. I highlighted real examples of social media dos and don’ts in the context of a bank, tapping my own expertise in helping to launch a blog at Bank of Beirut in order to communicate with the rising generation of consumers.

We conversed about social influencers, Instagram, making money from blogging, the importance of discriminating between what is real and what is virtual, and whether social media statistics will ever serve as a replacement for the more traditional CV. Appallingly, students were paying attention, because every few minutes, I’d prompt them with a question, and several would chime in with responses. I bombarded them with a verbal pop quiz at the close of the lecture, and many participated.


I intentionally paced between the desks to command students' attentions


So what exactly was happening? One girl summed it up bluntly when the instructor criticized her for being immersed in her phone the entirety of the lecture: she was capable of multi-tasking. So even though she wasn’t looking up or jotting down tidbits from the talk, she was tuning in and selectively absorbing information.

Huh. I was stupefied. As a university student, I typically sat in the front of the classroom so that I wouldn’t be distracted by students filing in late or ditching early. I wanted to be wholly consumed in the lecture so that I wouldn’t miss a thing. Note-taking was imperative, as was keeping my focus on the professor. 

You could draw a parallel to going to the movies: would you ever consider heading into the cinema merely for the auditory element? Screw the visuals, let’s just do some passive hearing while we swipe and text and chat. Blasphemy!


Many of the students were on their phones during the lecture


My lecture occupied the full block of time, after which the entire classroom save one student made a beeline for the door. This girl, whose attention had been visibly devoted to my talk, approached to inquire about graduate university life in the US and applying for the Fulbright Fellowship. I was pleased to see that there remain ambitious students, even when society is making excuses for the inevitable evolution of academia and studiousness.

Moments later, I breathed a sigh of relief as I left campus. The two-hour lecture had exhausted me, not so much physically but mentally and emotionally, because it’s not enjoyable talking to the crowns of people’s heads. Imagine going on a date with somebody who hardly looks up to meet your gaze or is constantly fidgeting with his phone. I’d up and leave.

Alas, maybe we need to adapt our educational tools to appeal to this techie generation. Maybe we need to alter our approach in order to captivate and challenge their malleable minds. Maybe we need to obliterate this sense of entitlement or get-rich-quick mentality that has effectively repudiated the classic methods of teaching.

We'll let the professors decide.

Comments

  1. So asking the students to leave their phones at the door was out of the question? Would've been Draconian, insensitive, paternal? There is a reason why my son and the rest of his high school mates have to check in their phones before they start their learning day. And I like that. Multitasking? Baloney! It's a fact that multitasking often leads to diminished focus, lower productivity, and poorer learning.

    And what about the thing called respect? I've been taught, and I am teaching my son, that it's rude to look down or away when someone is addressing you. Adapting and appealing to this techie generation must have a limit.

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