Monday, March 5, 2012

They’ve Got Tech…and They Know How to Use It?

Ok, so we talk a lot on this blog about faculty using technology.  But what about how students use technology in the classroom?  Do you treat cellphones, tablets, and laptops the same in your class?  Do you have different expectations for different technologies within your class?  Essentially, what is your technology policy and how do you let students know what your technology expectations are?

This is an important question as technologies such as cellphones, tablets, and laptops become ubiquitous in many people’s lives.  For many students, they won’t know what you expect from them with regard to their usage of technology in the class.  They don’t know if cellphone usage (the dreaded texting) is acceptable or not.  Seriously.  Walk through the hallways while class are in session and you will inevitably spot several students using their cellphones—sometimes, quite obviously—in class.  Some faculty hate cellphone usage and dismiss students; others ignore it; and others encourage the use of the cellphone as a pedagogical tool.  Regardless, it’s important to communicate your expectations within the classroom to help the student.  It’s probably useful to include a technology policy in the syllabus.  

The place of the cellphone in the classroom is still a topic of hot debate, but what about the tablet or laptop?  As colleges adopt laptop-requirements, it seems that to then ban laptops from the classroom is contradictory.  The laptop can be an excellent tool within the classroom.  Indeed, for me as a student, taking notes on a laptop as opposed to a pen and pad means that I’ll actually be able to read my notes later.  But (and this is a big one), laptops can be horribly distracting to learning.  It starts with opening email, then giving away cows on Farmville, then poking every friend on Facebook, bidding on 1970s ephemera on Ebay and finally, you’re in an epic battle with a troll on World of Warcraft—only then do you look up to find out class ended two hours ago. Clearly, that’s not what we want either.  

The discussion has lead to some interesting approaches and considerations with regards to technology in the classroom.  There’s been 2 policy tactics that I use in my classes with regard to laptop usage that I have found extremely useful and even had students thank me for keeping them on track through this policy.  

1.  Email notes at the end of class.
    At the end of class—before they leave the class--, students using laptops are required to send their notes to the instructor.  This is a great tool for two reasons.  It holds the student accountable for showing they’ve used their laptop responsibly (more on that in a second).  It also works as a feedback loop for the instructor to consider what the students are taking from the class.  

    Some at this point will say that it is the student’s responsibility to be responsible with the laptop.  I can agree with that, but that drift into things not having to do with class is much like speeding.  We’re apt to go over the speed limit almost daily unless there are clear and emphatic reminders to put us back on track (speed traps, speed trackers, signs, etc).  By requiring the student to email the notes, helps them keep the signs in mind. 

2.  Students must sit at the front of the class. 
    This tactic is useful because the student is restricted from hiding in the back.  This tactic works on peer pressure where the student knows that his/her screen will be exposed to the students behind him/her and is less likely to engage in inappropriate or unrelated activities. 

These strategies might not be of use or interest to you as an instructor, but it is important to consider just how you want to approach the question of technology in the classroom from the student’s standpoint. 
  • What technology policies do you have in the classroom?
  • What are some of the ways you’ve seen students use technology in the classroom that have encouraged/discouraged further use of technology by students in the class?