Technology in our classroom: does it help or distract?

There are certainly different types of view on the usage of technology or the extent of allowable usage time of electronic devices (laptop or cellphones) in the classrooms. Although the use of technology is becoming more and more prevalent nowadays, there are instructors which make policies (like no mobile phone use) as they find it respectful to the instructor and other students.

As someone who is more on the side of advocating technology use in class, I must admit there are disadvantages associated with the technology use. Especially, in situations where we lose interest in following a lecture (or find it boring for whatever reason), then it becomes more and more tempting to check Facebook, Instagram, or do some online shopping. Given the appealing nature of these social media, we might get completely disconnected from the class and that’s where this could be a major challenge for the instructor to tackle. On the other hand, I believe there are many positive sides as well. There have been many situations for me when the instructor brings a new subject (or a terminology) which I was not aware of before and googling about them showed to a quick way for me to get the needed information.

 

In my opinion, as technology gets more and more advanced, its role in our classrooms would be more highlighted in the future and strict policies fro forbidding technology use might not be the best idea. Therefore, I believe establishing some rules for technology use would be a possible solution to avoid distraction. For example, using devices once in a while would be acceptable and helpful unless it becomes frequent. In addition, I don’t always see the distraction as a consequence of technology use. If a student is not following the lecture, forbidding the technology use will not necessarily result in the desired outcome (increased attentiveness), and this is more related to the student’s perspective on in what capacity the technology is used for (either getting more connected to the class  (+) or web surfing  (-)).

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22 thoughts on “Technology in our classroom: does it help or distract?

  1. I think the answer to technology in the classroom is a class: yes, but…

    Can it help? Of course.
    Can it distract? Of course.

    Finding that ideal balance is probably the most challenging thing in education right now. We have these great resources, but we also need to make sure students are paying attention.

    When I taught high school, if I wanted to have a meaningful discussion class, I took students’ phones and put them in a bin at the front of class. There was no Googling within the discussion–no fact-checking. Just talking.

    It always astounded me how much I could get from people if I took their phones away.

    Conversely, I sometimes did scavenger hunts or sorts via the internet, where every kid was on their Chromebook and working.

    I think intent is the most important thing. What is your intent of the lesson? Will technology help or hurt? If you can answer that, you can better design your curriculum.

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    1. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts and your previous experience on the same topic for teaching in high school! I believe the benefits/downside of using technology is definitely dependent on the course content and also the course level (like undergraduate or graduate). At least for me, using the internet (or googling some technical terms) during the lectures shown to be useful and helped me to independently follow a discussion. Nonetheless, it’s all going to be related to how the students are going to respect the beneficial use of technology in the classroom setting.

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  2. I think you have a balanced perspective on technology in the classroom. I to agree that technology does have a place but it can be challenging to prevent distracting use of technology like you mentioned. Scrolling through Facebook and shopping distracts the user and other students. I think it is largely about creating an environment of respect for your peers and professor. If we are given the privilege to have our phones and computers, then we need to respect it’s use. Thanks for bringing up such a relevant topic.

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    1. I really like it when it is formulated as a professional conduct issue that we all have to work to maintain. This way we are not forced into defining strict boundaries for what type of technology is considered good or bad or how much use is frowned on. Because these are mostly determined in context and not by strict rules.

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      1. I liked your takeaway message on this, Arash. Instead of forcing strict rules in the classroom, we can consider the ‘useful’ use of technology as a professional conduct. Also, I think elaborating on this in designing the course syllabus will be worthwhile.

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    2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, I also believe creating an environment in which students respect the use of technology is an important point here (although being challenging). Especially, the more engaging a classroom becomes, there will be less chance that students will be inclined to check their phones/computers for non-related stuff.

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  3. I have always had this internal battle when it comes to technology. However, I think the reason for this has a lot to do with the structure of the course- aka, technology is not needed. Having said that, I also do not believe it is my decision on whether students use technology. Moreover, at this level of education, I think much of the decision making falls on the students and their desire to learn and engage with the material. However, this does not mean that my internal battle does not rage on and I think you provide good dialogue into the issue of technology in the classroom. Thanks for your insight!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Blayne. I also agree with your points on how the course structure plays a role in how acceptable it is to use phone/computers and also the fact that students are responsible for their own actions or how much they want to be involved in learning/discussing during the lecture. Having said that, I think it would be worthwhile for an instructor to clearly discuss the expectations on this subject in the first session of the class.

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  4. Hi,
    I think banning device depends on people. Children should not be allowed to use devices. However, it is a bit strange to prevent the university classroom from using the device. Because adults are responsible for all outcomes, it can seem a bit odd to ban or control their use. However, if the use of the device affects others, sanctions may be imposed.

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    1. Hi Seungbee,
      Thanks for reading my post and bringing an interesting point. The ‘age’ is also important here, and as you mentioned it might be strict to have forbidding rules for using devices in the class except for the situation that can impact others.

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  5. People can sleep or daydream during class without using a device. A student can read magazine or comic in class if he wants. People can chat, eat, write a note to friends in class if they feel bored in class. There are tons of ways to distract in class if they intend to do. Yes, new technologies make us easy to be distracted. But I think it totally depends on students’ attitude to the class, not the techniques.

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    1. Exactly, there are tons of ways to get distracted in the class. Therefore, making students not use their device will not necessarily result in increased attention. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Yinlin.

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  6. I also think of myself as tech savvy and forward but I find myself with ludite ideas on tech in the classroom. I think for me, the issue is not pretending to be engaged. If you have your computer out, it creates a physical barrier between the teacher and the student and its hard to get a level of engagement in a non discussion oriented lecture. The best classes I’ve been in don’t give out powerpoints and both the teacher and the student write out lecture and class notes. That level of equality has always appealed to me and even now that I take written notes on a tablet, you don’t create the barrier between the teacher and student

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thought, Ishi! I agree with your point on how powerpoint style lectures (which is getting more and more common) can get boring. Especially, it can result in the same conventional classroom setting that the instructor bombards students with materials if the instructor does not think about new directions to make interactive discussions.

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  7. I think the expectations we hold ourselves too, as well as the people we interact with, play a large part in the distractions technology causes in the classroom. Emails need to be responded to within a reasonable amount of time, time-sensitive questions posed in text messages, even remembering to order something before it slips the mind. I think if we all took things a bit slower, we would allow ourselves to engage more actively in class–given the instructor is actually engaging. Can anyone really be mad at students for surfing the web if it is more informing and intriguing than the person standing at the front of the room facing the whiteboard?

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    1. I think for many graduate students, they give a lot of priority to research tasks (or teaching responsibilities). For me, it’s happening several times in the class in which I spend time responding email to my advisor or giving a prompt reply to a student for a class I’m TA’ing at, which can further distract me of my presence in the class. Thanks a lot for sharing your thought on this!

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  8. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I completely agree with your conclusion that some balanced and regulated technology use may be more effective than a technology ban. I don’t think forcing students into submission with a strict technology ban is actually going to increase attentiveness and focus. On the contrary, if I were that student who was having trouble focusing and needed a technology break I would still completely zone out and I would be annoyed at the rule. Coming up with some rules to maintain respect within the classroom and limit how much technology use can distract other students on the front end may be helpful so that everyone is on the same page from the start.

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    1. Yes, Cherice, I agree with you. Instead of having strict rules, providing clear expectations by the instructor at the beginning of the semester and elaborating on how ‘fair’ usage of using personal devices is more professional and respectful is along the same lines what I’ve been thinking of. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  9. You made some great points in this post! I, too, am more on the side of incorporating technology, although it can be distracting. I recall spending far too much time as an elementary school student staring out the window and / or daydreaming, so I’m more of the mind that if someone wants to be distracted or off task, they will find a way to do so.

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    1. Exactly, there are so many ways to get distracted. So, strict rules on avoiding using devices will not necessarily result to be more focused in the class. But on the other hand, I must also say that web surfing or checking news or social media can be considered as a catalyst among all the ways to get distracted. Thanks for sharing your thought, Savannah!

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  10. Hey Milad, Nice post! I agree that using technology in the classroom can make the learning process easier or harder, depending on the students and the professor. I understand that often time we (as the educators) try to come up with a one fits all solution, possibly from a paternalistic point of view. However, it does not warrant true learning. I would also like to add that often time the use of technology in class depends on the subject materials itself. Nonetheless, putting effort to create an engaging environment for the student irrespective of the use of technology can help generating students attention. What’s your thought on this?

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  11. Hi Farha. As you said, the course structure and the design play a role in how using technology would be acceptable. I also agree that creating an ‘engaging’ environment is one of the best ways to confront the negative aspects of using personal devices in the classroom, but definitely creating an engaging setting requires novel solutions and there is no one size fit all instruction for this. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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