In the last few years, I have enlisted a new tactic in dealing with digital devices that works out well for all parties. At the start of the course and in the syllabus, I provide the following three rules for using laptops and tablets in the course.
- If a student is going to use a device, they must sit in the front center area of the class.
- If other students are distracted by non-course related activities, the student will receive a warning (and eventual restriction of use).
- At the end of class, the student is required to email me the notes.
However, the third rule is the most invaluable. I clarify that the notes need to be substantial and not just copying my usually sparse PowerPoint slides. It provides a check and level of accountability that students often thank me for at the end of the course. If students know they need to produce something with their device, they are more likely to stay on task. As an instructor, it’s a great feedback loop about where they are placing emphasis within the notes. It means that if I think subject X was important but they fixated on subject Y, I might need to revisit the material.
I used to be the instructor who would be quite strict about device usage, but I quickly realized that I can’t remember a time when I have been in a classroom as a student and not been doodling, writing non-class-related notes and ideas and still been able to take substantial notes. I found this approach great in guiding students toward staying on track and also getting quick feedback about what they are learning. It also gives them the freedom to direct their attention as they see fit, but know they need to use the device as a tool for learning, not for entertaining.