Should I implement a technology ban in my classroom? Would students benefit from this? Would it impede their learning? Can this be done? These are questions we have been considering for several months. We have discussed the idea of a “tech free” with colleagues and have received mixed opinions. We even share our thoughts about this on a recent Facebook Live session. Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/practicalprofessors/videos/745834255594430/.
What’s in the research?
While technology definitely has a place in the classroom, it may not be appropriate for taking notes during lecture. The research on this topic is undeniable; students who take notes by hand rather than typing notes retain more information that is presented in class. They learn to listen to what is being presented and summarize the information into their own words, because they do not have time to write everything word for word. They are digesting what is said rather than simply mindless typing what the instructor is saying. They do not take as many notes, because they are not copying word for word, but the notes they take are more meaningful because of the attention given to what was being written down.
Students Weigh In
In addition to the research on the use of technology for note taking, students honestly report that they use technology for academic and non-academic purposes in the classroom. They report laptops are used for note taking, conducing research, accessing academic resources that are related to the course, for participating in activities and completing assignments. However, they also note that they access email, social media, and i-chat using their computers. They also can access Internet sites and review information that is not related to courts content. They also report that technological devices, mainly their cell phones, are used in class for non-academic purposes. They candidly share that cell phones are accessed for personal use, so perhaps, just banning cell phones in the classroom would help to reduce distractions.
The more research we did, the more questions that surfaced. Should we prohibit the use of technology during instruction? Will students stop attending class if technology is limited? How will students react?
I have banned cell phone use in my classroom every semester since I started teaching. I do not use my cell phone in class, and therefore, I do not permit my students to use their cell phones. However, this has not curbed the problem of inappropriate use of technology or helped to reduce the distraction that some devices are leading to in the classroom. Even when I have classroom assistants monitor the use, students are sneaky and learn to flip from screen to screen so that it appears that they are paying attention. They effort that they expend hiding their inappropriate use of technology is a distraction to the student and also to students around them who have reported in recent semesters that their peers in appropriate use of technology is a distraction to them. For this reason, it was time that I addressed it more forcefully in my classes. But how?
We have some colleagues that have implemented a technology free classroom. They force students to put cell phones, computers, and tablets away at the beginning of class. Students are forced to use pencil and paper to take notes. We also have some colleagues who do not have polices regarding the use of technology and students are free to use devices as they please in class. There are different reasons given for both, such as students are more engage in discussions when they are not distracted by technology to they are adults who pay for the class and therefore technology use is not limited or prohibited in the classroom.
How does technology impact the classroom environment?
But, this begs the question, how does the use of technology impact the classroom environment? Does it have a negative impact on discussion, participation, and retention of information? Is it distracting to other learners? Is there experience in the classroom being impacted by those who are using their devices excessively and for reasons that are not related to the educational experience in the classroom?
Cyberslacking is defined as “employees’ use of their employers’ web access during work hours for non-work-related purposes.” However, this can also be applied to the field of education. Students who are using university resources, such as WiFi access, for non-school related purposes during classroom instruction, could be deemed cyberslacking. And while the students is not an employee of the university when attending class, their actions may interfere with others in the classroom.
In order to raise awareness, instructors who decide to implement technology free classes or restrictions on technology in the classroom should explain cyberslacking, the myths about multitasking, and how the use of technology also infringes upon the rights of other students in the class. Due to this being a distraction to others, it is unfair. Instructors are to create and maintain an environment conducive to learning. Everyone must work together to create a productive learning environment.
As an instructor, there have been numerous times that I have asked a question in class only to be met with blank stares. The student who is eventually called upon, at random, asks for the question to be repeated, due to not being aware of what was asked. While this is not always caused by technology distraction, it is happening more often as the use of different types of technology enter the classroom. Computers, tablets, phones, and wearables provide students with constant connection to the world wide web and the world taking place outside of the four classroom walls. So, this semester, we will be putting more restrictions on the use of technology in class. For example, technology will be limited during instruction but permitted during in class activities and group work. We hope that this will help to increase participation and reduce redundant questions. We also hope that students will recognize the benefits, because they will become better note takers and retain more information/content that is presented in class, thus they will spend more time studying and will earn higher grades.