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« This Week's Acquisitions | Main | In which one is brought up short »

September 24, 2005



I think they probably think that you can't turn on the lights unless you've got a staff card, either physically or without being reprimanded. They probably draw an analogy with the computer systems, heating, A/C and so on.

A clarifying sign on the wall might be useful: PLEASE DO TURN THE LIGHTS ON.


I teach in a post-16 college in England. Not only do my students sit in the dark, they often won't even enter the room until I arrive!

New Kid on the Hallway

My students do the SAME THING. It has always baffled me, too. My theory is that they can pretend that class isn't going to happen until the lights go on....

Dr Pretorius

As far as I recall, from those undergraduate days, the answer is simpler: there's no reason to turn on the lights if you're a student.

Seriously, I remember getting into the room and being the first one there. I could either turn on the lights or just go sit down in a dim but still workable room. And then the next person came in, and hey, I was already there so they figured it was fine as it was, and it just goes from there.


When do you teach? My 8:00 AM students will use a darkened room as an invitation to catnap before (hopefully, only before) class.


I've been baffled by this, too. It happens all the time in my 9AM class, but also occasionally in my noon class.

I agree with JBJ -- they may be trying to catch a few Z's.

Nonetheless, it is strange and somewhat unsettling (like maybe they're going to throw me a surprise party).

Jonathan Dresner

Yeah, I've wondered about this, too. It's either apathy or extreme deference, I figure. Probably both.

Brian Ogilvie

The same thing happens to me, and I have been equally baffled. Dr Pretorius is probably right: for the individual student, the light doesn't matter much as long as you can find your way to a chair. It's when the prof arrives that the assembled individuals become a class.


Many students don't want to stand out, either -- they don't want to be the one who takes action, with the light switch, or the window shades, or any other equipment. The only thing I have seen them do on their own, sadly, is line up the chairs in rows -- but only on a test day.

Academic Coach

passivity to the extreme....


they said it all... so, me too.

Bourgeois Nerd

As a recent college grad, I'll say I always perceived it as an "Let's relax for a minute" sign. I guess that makes it just another version of the "Let's sleep for a bit" theory, but I think it's actually a bit different.

Trite R.

Have noticed the same thing, and I wonder: would a simple, "You guys can turn the lights on, you know-" be sufficient to provoke change?

Jonathan Dresner

Trite R.: No, it wouldn't. I've said it dozens of times in my career as a teacher and TA. It's never seemed to make an impression. They don't say anything; they just look at you... or away from you.


Yes! True and quite strange. I half expect my students to turn suddenly as I enter and announce that . . . they've been *expecting* me.


But those same students (at least at Georgia Tech) will do everything they possibly can to figure out how to change the thermostat (or turn on the air conditioning). I think they're just trying to catnap until the professor arrives....


They like the dark. See Faith Camp in this week's Chronicle of Higher Ed.


Mine love to do this -- and it's so dark in the classroom that you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. Whatever.

David Blackburn

I happen to be an undergrad student and (pardon me if i have intruded on a strictly graduate realm) i have noticed this strange occurence as well. I can't say haw many times I have come into a full class room and turned on the lights--it apears I am unique in that ability. I am no phsycology major, but I would say extreme apathy and a bit of "go with the flow" mentality is to blame.

Jon Benda

Here in Taiwan, my students have a good excuse--it's hot and the rooms aren't air-conditioned. (And they're cat-napping.)


Just to offer an alternative anecdote -- I once sat in on an undergrad class where the prof always arrived at the last possible minute and immediately turned off the lights and shut the blinds before lecturing. It was too dark for the students to take notes!

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