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New Year's Resolution: No Electronics in Class!

Tal Gross:

I had a choice. I could disrupt the class to single him out. Or I could do what most teachers in higher education do: just ignore it. After all, these students are adults, and they have to take a final exam. Do I have to be the disciplinarian?

Actually, Mr. Gross, you had another choice. You could have designed your class so that you are not the center of attention. You could have implemented an instructional model that engages students (maybe even with each other).

Mr. Gross goes on to give some good research which supports the case that taking notes with an electronic device is not as "good" as old school note taking formats.

If Mr. Gross is going to base his decisions on research, he might like to include looking at data, as well. He says one student (in a class of 85) unintentionally suggested the idea of banning laptops:

He was sitting in the back row, silently pecking away at his laptop the entire class. At times, he smiled at his screen. But he rarely looked up at me.

Oh, the horror that a student would have the gall to not look at his professor! Sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Gross, but banning electronics is not going make that student look at you, though it might invite some gestures my students have shown me, when I have been ill-prepared to meet their needs. He presents research suggesting that students score worse on conceptual concepts when note-taking on a computer, but doesn't address his classroom data that supports that. Rather, he focuses on the behavior of one student to make a determination for all his students.

The technology is not the problem. The professor's instruction is the problem. But, I am not one to just complain about something.

So, here are my unsolicited suggestions:

  1. Create a classroom environment that is more engaging and does not cause you to be bothered by which students are looking at you.
  2. Yes, inform your students of the problem with distraction and electronic devices.
  3. Trust your students to act appropriately. "If something is taking you away from our classroom experiences, you should turn off your device. Otherwise, I will trust that you are using your devices appropriately."
  4. Get rid of the final exam. Require students to show that they have learned the material in a way that is meaningful and authentic.

Two final points:

  • In any situation where there is a problem, always assume you are the problem, because then you can actually be the solution. Don't blame it on something else. Own it.

  • I wonder what Mr. Gross is going to do when a student refuses to put away a laptop. What recourse could he possibly have? Fail the student? Tell the student not to come to class? Call the police to escort him out of class? I see many opportunities for this to turn into a power struggle, and when we engage in power struggles with our students, we nearly always lose because they are always going to be more willing to take it to the next step. And if you are willing to answer their escalation, it is time to get out of the business.