Should Students Be Allowed to Use Technology in Class?

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I have been teaching for over forty years. In some ways, my approach to the teaching-learning process has not changed. I still try to engage every student, present information in ways that challenge their thinking, and encourage active learning.

But in other ways, things are different. I have finally given up my piece of chalk (although I have some in my desk just in case a blackboard suddenly reappears). I use PowerPoints, videos and assign electronic databases. I post assignments, grades and receive assignments online.

I made a decision a few years ago that I would not allow cell phones or computers in my class. I put this on the top of my syllabus and go over it on the first day. Unless students have an emergency where they might need to be contacted, phones and computers are off and out of sight.

A recent study conducted by the University of Nebraska was published in The Journal of Media Education. The study provided the results of a survey with 777 students (mostly undergraduate) at six colleges and universities regarding their use of digital devices in class for non-class purposes. The results should come as no surprise in a world where so many people have their cell phones out 24 hours a day emailing, texting, and even waking up during the middle of the night just to answer a message.

Ninety-two percent of the respondents indicated that they used their devices for non-class purposes in class. On average, undergraduates said they used these devices at least 11 times per day in class. Here is the breakdown:

Frequency of Student Device Use in Class for Non-Class Purposes, Per Day

Never

8%

1-3 times

35%

4-10 times

27%

11-30 times

16%

More than 30 times

15%

Types of Uses

Texting

86%

Checking the Time

79%

Email

68%

Social Networking

66%

Web Surfing

38%

Games

8%

When asked why they used their devices in class, even though they admitted that it was a distraction to them and classmates, they identified these “advantages:”

-staying connected (70%)

-avoiding boredom (55%)

-doing related classwork (49%)

Needless to say, most professors expressed frustration about this phenomenon. But what I found particularly interesting were some of the comments from professors who were less concerned about the use of devices.

Some are trying to integrate the use of electronic devices into classroom instruction … encouraging students to find relevant research or commentary at the same time that the professor is leading a discussion. Others put the burden on the faculty. While it may be a more realistic comment at institutions where class size is small, one professor said if students are bored or more interested in connecting with friends, maybe that’s an assessment of teaching style.

I plan to teach again in the Spring semester. I am rethinking my policy on electronic devices.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Monday, 28 July 2014