Is it the technology’s fault?

Joshua Kim has another post that I just had to respond to.  He writes about banning laptops from the lecture hall.  As usual, Joshua and I have pretty similar ideas.  He says:

While I understand the impulse to ban laptops from your classroom, I’d argue that you’d be giving up far more than you gain. Laptops are a tool, and all tools need to be utilized correctly.

He then goes on to provide some excellent advice on how to integrate laptops into the class, with students actively using the laptops at some times and not using them at others.  He then makes a very important point:

What is important is that you are chunking the delivery of your lecture content and giving your students a chance to “re-set” their brains. After 10 minutes of doing something active on their laptops you can again say “lids down” and deliver the second (20 minute) part of your lecture. A 50 minute class will go much faster for everyone, and I’m betting you will have much higher levels of retention.

Excellent advice, and something we shouldn’t need reminding of on a regular basis, but most of us do!

As someone who teaches regularly in a computer lab, this is something I have had to battle myself.  It is tempting for students to do a million other things while they are supposed to be paying attention to whatever is going on in class.  It took me longer than I would like to admit to realize that the computers weren’t the problem; I was.  When my students were actively engaged in the class, the computers were no problem.  When I lost the students for whatever reason, the computers became an issue.

What has worked for me is what Josh describes: inserting computer activities into what we are doing.  I don’t lecture much, but we have discussions of readings that sometimes seem to go on too long and don’t ever reach a good conclusion.  When that happens, students will one by one “sneak off” to check email or shop.  I know because our lab software allows me to monitor their computers.  So now I really try to give them some computer work every day.  It can be, as Josh suggests, blogging about what we have just talked about.  Other times it is research.  What I haven’t tried is Josh’s idea of having students create  Power Points about the lesson.  That sounds like a great idea, and I am going to give it a try.

We need to stop blaming the technology and start looking more at our own practice.  While I don’t think we need to entertain students all the time, I believe we need to find ways to keep them engaged. I can almost guarantee that banning laptops isn’t going to accomplish that goal!


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