Yesterday, a colleague emailed me with a query:
We are so frustrated with the mis-use of electronics in class by students and feel they ultimately take away from learning and discussion. Texting, messaging, on line, etc. We have considered putting a ban on all electronics (laptops included) and see what happens.
Our occasional bans have certainly increased student involvement in class! On-line we find articles regarding such a ban, but wondered if you have any helpful information for us.
So can you speak to the other side of this coin?
PS – I so wish we were all where you are in regards to electronics in the classroom, but we are not…
Her message coincided with me not knowing what to blog about this week. A match made in blogger heaven…
The Dynamite Device Debate
Distractions abound in our classrooms and in our lives. The device debate has been raging for as long as I've been teaching. Often times, the debate produces a false dichotomy: Should we “allow” laptops/phones/etc., or should we “ban” them?
The “yes” side says we should ban laptops/phones because:
- Using one's smart phone too often could result in decreased academic performance
- Taking notes by hand will prove to be more effective for their learning
- Avoiding their use helps us focus better (though, as this study explores, it's far more complex than that)
The “no” side says we should avoid banning laptops/phones because:
- It takes away the option our students are most familiar with (they grew up taking notes this way)
- We may inadvertently discriminate against students with learning and cognitive disabilities
- “…unilateral bans on technology in the classroom accomplish nothing but demonstrating an off-putting rigidity and an adversarial view of students“
Then, there are some who advocate for giving students the choice of whether or not to use devices. Some faculty create a laptop-friendly zone where students can choose to sit, if they prefer to use a device. It can be vital to explain these choices to our students, to properly equip them to make decisions about how they will engage in the classroom. There's also the option to cooperate with the inevitable and allow for tech breaks during an otherwise gadget-free class.
If you visited one of my classes, what you would observe (in terms of device usage) would vary greatly. On some days, the students wouldn't use any technology at all. In fact, I wouldn't use any, either, preferring to teach with sticky notes or engage in a more serendipitous dialog than linear slide structures provide.
Jose Bowen advocates that we “teach naked” – as in not use technology while in a classroom environment. He stresses that we consider what we are doing in our pedagogy and whether or not laptops and other technology tools serve our purposes. When he was a guest on Teaching in Higher Ed, he said:
Nobody uses a laptop while doing yoga or playing tennis. – Jose Bowen
After learning from Jose's model, I started to frame my requests to put the tech away in more of a need-based argument. That might sounds something like:
We aren't going to be needing laptops or phones today, so you can put them away and get ready for today's case.
However, on other days, I make use of retrieval practice tools and invite students to take their devices out.
Today, we're going to review about the four types of competition in a capitalistic economic system. I invite you to take out your phones as we use PollEverywhere. If you don't have a phone or other device with you, let me know and you're free to borrow mine.
I continue to be challenged and encouraged by people who have questioned outright laptop bans like James Lang and Kevin Gannon. I'm finding that the whole idea of banning really sets the wrong tone for my teaching aspirations. I don't want to treat my students as adversaries. I want to engage them with the possibilities that learning offers.
However, I also recognize that our students have established norms in many of the educational experiences they have had before meeting me that engagement is not welcomed. Many of them have only known learning as a passive experience. For that kind of pedagogy, give your students the choice of how to take in what you have to say.
If you are committed to a different type of teaching style than lecture, invite your students to experience deeper learning through the power of dialog. Instead of imposing restrictions about what they can't use, invite them to have an experience that can't be had through the use of technology.
One of my professors in my doctoral classes would allow us to use our laptops during about half of the course time, but had a dedicated time where we invited to rearrange our chairs into a circle and put all our gadgets away. Each of us would share our reflections on that week's reading.
I remember grumbling (to myself) a bit about the “hassle” of moving furniture. I now recognize the symbolism that the actions represented. After a couple of weeks, he no longer had to instruct us on what to do, we had adopted new norms for having a deeper dialog than we typically had when our noses were behind our laptops.
Don't ban; invite.
Be sure that the first time you extend an invitation to put the technology away that you have something planned that will demonstrate something different is happening. Surprise them. Engage them. Get them up and moving around.
Build their trust that when they accept your invitation to put the potentially distracting devices away, that you'll be welcoming them in to a learning experience worthy of the sacrifice.