How Not to Enforce a “No Technology” Rule in Class

It is no secret that many professors are not big fans of distracted students. Even more so, some are deeply offended and can even get hostile.

Take this professor who uses laptop distraction as an object lesson for his lecture class.

He staged the event, by the way. Nevertheless, is that the right strategy to start off a semester and create a rapport with your students?

On the one hand, we can sympathize with the logic. It is one thing for a student not to pay attention and get caught in their own distractions. If that lack of attention is then distracting others, the problem is much larger.

On the other hand, with the way that students are using technology and communicating, it is not as cut and dry. While students may seem to be distracted, it may also be that they are not. If we expect a student to stay seated and pay attention to a lecture, distraction will reduce memory retention. But technology is also challenging teachers to be smarter about how to use time in the classroom.

One idea is to use “technology breaks” where you check your phone, the web, whatever, for a minute or two and then turn the phone to silent, the computer screen off and “focus” on work or conversation or any nontechnological activity for, say 15 minutes, and then take a 1-2 minute tech break followed by more focus times and more tech breaks.

Indeed, more frequent, shorter breaks during a class are beneficial for everyone involved. Forcing students to get up and get the blood moving will yield a more productive and attentive class.

These devices are part integrated into the social and psychological fabric of today’s undergraduate. Phones, tablets, iPods, and laptops are not simply ancillary devices. They are are the tools to create and maintain critical connections to peers and yes, even course content. Finding ways to validate and cultivate that central aspect of student identity is increasingly important in how we teach.

So where is the balance between distraction and integration to help students succeed?

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