Monday, September 29, 2014

The Technology in the Classroom Dilemma

A couple of years ago I decided to no longer ask students to turn off laptops or to put down screens in computer labs. I also don't insist on mobile phones and tablets being switched off - only that they be put on silent. My attitude nowadays is that the computer is a learning tool that can add value to a class for a student. I have no objection to a student looking up a term or word that they don't understand, or downloading the course notes and adding extra notes to them. I do appreciate that this policy can and is abused - who can resist checking Facebook for a few minutes in the middle of a boring lecture?

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There is evidence that students can easily be distracted by the screens of others - I see this all the time in my own classes. Today I read a short article "What is a more effective way of taking notes - laptop or notepad?" which cites a study where students taking notes by hand performed better than those who used laptops to take notes. Professor Clay Shirky of New York University recently decided to ban technology in the class (read about this here) mostly due to the "rising level of distraction" and that "multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work, and is especially punishing of the kind of cognitive work we ask of college students". Interestingly Shirky writes that anyone "distracted in class doesn't just lose out on the content of the discussion but creates a sense of permission that opting out is OK, and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers" - I agree. Students can make up their own minds what they do with their own time, but they should be conscious that they might be distracting others.

For now I will continue to allow students to use technology in the classroom, with the proviso that they do so without distracting others. I do not want students spending time on Facebook or Twitter, or checking email, or watching cuddly cat videos - I am trusting them not to do so.

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