Technology in the Classroom: Blessing or Bane?
After about a year or two of teaching at the Saunders College of Business, I decided to make a new rule for my class. I banned personal technology (cell phones, tablets, and computers) from my classroom except during approved groupwork sessions. I’ve been in some excellent discussions about this (Hi, Chris!) and wanted to discuss why I ban technology and what it would take for me to change my mind.
There are three good reasons why I might allow technology in my class. The first is to allow students to explore their own creative interests. The second is in the interests of personal freedom–students have a right to do as they please in class as long as it truly is not a distraction and they are still learning. The third is to allow students to take notes. Any others you can think of? Bear in mind that students can use technology during group exercises to look up info on companies.
I banned technology mainly because of the following reasons, however:
I. Distractions for students and those around them Have you ever had the experience of being at a meeting, checking your phone, only to find a rather distracting or urgent text message that made it difficult to focus? Or, noticing someone else checking their phone, reflexively reached for yours? Technology usage is oddly contagious. The problem is, in a classroom of 40 people, a wave of technology checking means no one is really paying attention anymore. There’s also some interesting research showing that being distracted for just 30 seconds means it takes several minutes to refocus. And of course, don’t get me started on being subjected to random ringtones, beeps, and clicks in the classroom.
II. Technology envy and diffusion. I once watched with amusement, back when I allowed technology, as more and more laptops cropped up in the class over time. Students started bringing in laptops more because they could, rather than to improve learning. One concern about permitting technology in the classroom is it sets up a bit of a class distinction. Taking my notes on pen and paper doesn’t seem as fun compared to my neighbor’s iPad.
III Group participation and enforcement issues. Technology can be quite antisocial, and I feel like it makes students lose the group dynamic. I’ve seen students bring in a laptop and then seem to mentally check out of class, not wanting to participate in group exercises and seeming oblivious. Now do I need to tell the student to put their laptop away? Or check their screen? But what if they really are taking notes? Essentially, I don’t want to waste my classroom time feeling like I have to police technology usage so that other students might not be distracted by Runescape or Minecraft.
IV. The Average Student Dilemma. I definitely agree that the top creative, responsible minds in my class could do quite well if I just said “For the next 10 minutes, look up anything you can on entrepreneurial finance.” I’ve wanted to devise a class for some time that would rely mostly on individual pacing and motivation. Technology would be a large part of that. However, I’ve found that when I try to get too creative in the classroom, a lot of the students get left behind. I think that a properly designed course that used technology might be great for the top 10%, but I feel that it would not necessarily benefit all students. It also means that the students don’t have a common knowledge base to draw on the way we do if we all work together on same material. Also, what common technology could I depend on everyone to have? Not everyone even has smartphones, let alone tablets. And even if I could mandate (such as clickers), I wouldn’t want to add extra cost.
Now, one development I’m keeping an eye on is the improvement of e-readers and tablets. IF (big if) it becomes clear that electronic devices are better than pen and paper for taking notes, I would definitely change my policy. I can see that day coming down the road, but I don’t think we are quite there yet. So then, those of you who permit free use of technology in the classroom, how has it been a blessing? Feel free to challenge my points.