AirPods disconnect students from class


A student has her AirPods in as she reads a book during class. Student use of AirPods in classrooms has raised concern from teachers over the potential impact on students’ learning environments. Photo by Sarah Boeke

Elaine Kim and Zoe Bendoff, News Editor and Staff Writer

A student has her AirPods in as she reads a book during class. Student use of AirPods in classrooms has raised concern from teachers over the potential impact on students’ learning environments. Photo by Sarah Boeke

When a peer offered to zip up her opened backpack during a passing period, junior Lauren Belsky thought nothing of it until her next class, when she noticed her AirPods were missing. After feverishly digging through her backpack, she realized they had been stolen. Belsky asked School Resource Officer John Seiler to review surveillance footage around the time of the theft, which revealed the guilty party to be that peer.

Belsky said this experience led her to realize the lengths to which some people will go to in order to follow the AirPods trend.

“AirPods have kind of become a big thing, and some people feel like they have to have them,” said Belsky. “Some people go to extremes like stealing, but a lot of people also buy them who don’t use headphones often just because they want to be part of the trend.”

AirPods, a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones, were released by Apple in December 2016. They offer audio connectivity to various Apple devices and can be used to listen to live audio captured by connected devices through a feature called “Live Listen.”

According to the Glenbrook North Student-Parent Handbook, students are not allowed to use personal devices, such as AirPods, in classrooms, but teachers are able to follow this policy at their own discretion.

Health teacher Jen Mau said she has recently noticed more students walking into her health classes using their AirPods, although she does not allow them during class.

“I’ve caught kids in class wearing them, trying to hide them by putting just one in, or I might have kids with longer hair trying to cover their ear with their hair or hoods,” said Mau. “Most of the time I catch them right away, … but this last semester I did have a boy with longer hair, and a couple of times I missed it.”

Math teacher John Krickl said he is concerned about students getting away with hiding their AirPods during class because  moments of missed material will add up, causing students to fall behind. He also thinks the use of “Live Listen” is a potential problem, fearing that students will use it to share information on tests.

“I think students are probably less likely to take a risk for something more high stakes like a quiz or test, but assuming that a student could hide their AirPods during an assessment, that would definitely bring up some test security concerns,” Krickl said.

According to junior Rebecca Shakhnis, she had never paid attention to AirPods until they became a trend at school and on social media, prompting her to begin wearing her mom’s pair at school.

Shakhnis said after coming across a viral video of someone testing “Live Listen,” she decided to try it out herself. She found it was easy to leave her phone near her friends during class and hear what they were saying with her AirPods if she moved away from them.

“Students can use the feature for eavesdropping [and] just getting extra information,” said Shakhnis. “I’ve heard people joking about using it, but not for using it in, like, a malicious context.”

Associate Dean Jeanette Jordan said using “Live Listen” to obtain private or personal information could have serious consequences.

“Any time that people are being recorded without their permission, it is a huge issue, whether it’s audio or video,” said Jordan. “That’s not just a school issue, that’s a legal issue.”

Belsky said she finds AirPods convenient because she dislikes wired headphones while working out, but she also finds herself feeling tempted to use them during class.

“When nothing is really going on in class, the thought is definitely there to put an AirPod in, but I can’t give in because I should be paying attention,” said Belsky. “Because of its size, I think it creates an easy option for students to choose [to use AirPods] and pay attention less in class.”