learning to teach | teaching to learn — a blog on pedagogy by emma stamm
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  • classroom tech and its discontents. (why am i always thinking about this?)

    Posted on November 13th, 2017 emma No comments

    As a Master’s student, I read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, and it resonated with me deeply. Skimming the GEDI syllabus a few weeks ago, it was interesting to see his name pop up in my coursework once again. I didn’t realize then that our course’s emphasis on technology would take a self-reflexive turn. This is encouraging.  I think we could go further in trying to reconcile the realities of our hyper-networked lives with the fact that teaching and learning demand deep presence. Perhaps we will in class. This is relevant to all of us as instructors and students alike, and I’m afraid that a lot of the articles here lend themselves to simplistic analyses and easy takeaways. The conversation can’t end here.

    I have a unique advantage with respect to tech use in the classroom. Critiquing information technology from a humanistic perspective is what I do. Critically examining “digital culture” is part of the courses I teach, and as a doctoral student, it is pretty much my raison d’etre right now. (In fact I am pretty sure my friends have been sick of me talking about the awfulness of social media since I started griping… when I was in high school). The syllabus from which I currently teach explicitly bans the use of Internet-connected devices in the classroom — including but not limited to laptops, smartphones and tablets — except in cases of disability (which is super important; I’ll come back to that). I have yet to come up with a more nuanced or flexible approach to this, in part because I simply can’t see any other way. To be clear, I don’t think Google is “making us stupid” (and I don’t think clickbait headlines foster any sort of useful conversation). But I absolutely believe that our engagement with information technology reflect addictive patterns of behavior, and that Internet use may be rewiring our brains. As with any addiction, to speak of “choice” with regard to our tech use, then, becomes more difficult. This compulsory behavior may not be a choice, so explicit technology bans may be the best option.

    But explicit technology bans are a major injustice to people with disabilities and students who are not completely fluent in the course’s language. Darren Rosenblum’s article addresses “medical exemptions,” but I fear the way he phrases it glosses over the issue. Many people have disabilities that affect their reading and writing which can be aided by laptops and similar devices. These include vision impairment, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and motor impairment. Moreover, students who are not fluent in the language of the course may rely on translation software to help them in class. Making special exception for these students work, but it also forces them to “out” themselves in front of their peers. As an instructor, I’m uncomfortable with this. I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts on it.

    I found Clive Thompson’s article extremely reductive. Honestly, in a lot of these readings, the use of the word “technology” did a lot of heavy lifting. It’s easy to appear to have an innovative idea on the use of technology when most of what you are doing is distinguishing between various forms and uses of tech. Suffice it to say that Thompson provided a very narrow account of human intelligence and our “cognitive past and future” (his article didn’t engage any major critiques of human cognition and intellectual milieu after the Enlightenment, the invention of the printing press, and so on). Many techno-optimistic writings like this advance their arguments based on cherry-picked sources, ranging from techno-hype that seems rather smart at first blush, but is mostly clever rhetoric use, to neuroscience, to arguments for the benefits of technology based mostly on how it optimizes our productivity. It’s just not that substantial.

    In terms of pedagogy, however, that’s neither here nor there. Since we also have a focus on diversity this week, and ableism is a huge concern for engagement with diversity, I wonder if we can synthesize these two angles to develop a non-techno-optimist classroom tech policy that respects differences in ability.


    5 responses to “classroom tech and its discontents. (why am i always thinking about this?)” RSS icon

    • I have seen some more flexible ways to limit electronic use in class. One teacher I was a TA for asked all of the students who wanted to take notes on their computers in class to sit in the front one or two rows. She explicitly explained that they would be allowed to use their computers in class as long as they were not doing other activities. I thought this was a better way to restrict electronic device use in class then what I saw in my undergrad, which was a blanket ban on phones (back when all phones did was call and text)and sometimes computers.

      I wrote this week about diversity statements, so I haven’t had a chance to look at the readings you referenced. But I have been thinking about how not all students have the same access to technology, either because of cost, time or physical access (there are places in Virginia that today do not have reliable internet access, I work in one on the eastern shore). Knowing this forces me to think about why I really want to use specific technological tools or apps, if they will serve a purpose and if there are other options.

      • I really like that idea about having students using laptops sit up front. Maybe from now on, I’ll tell them that my preference is against device use, but if they choose to — for any reason, and they don’t have to say why — just to sit closer to me. Thanks for that. Also, interesting thoughts re: web access. I didn’t know that there were places in this state without it. Lack of access definitely changes the conversation on Internet overload a bit!

    • I totally respect this perspective. It’s a tough decision as a professor or instructor to make. I also have thought about the implications of prohibiting technology, specifically with students with disabilities. Because it does, as you stated, sort of force them to single themselves out and perhaps have to “justify” to other classmates why they get to use their laptops while the rest of the class does not. I also have quite a few ELL students in my class, and I realize that they sometimes need to translate things that I say or things that are on the screen. I think that is also another reason that I personally have for not banning technology.

      But I have thought about prohibiting laptops and cell phones in the classroom because, quite frankly, I get tired of seeing students look intently at their laptops when there’s really nothing they should be looking at. It’s disheartening to see after I spent more time than I should have planning the lesson. Out of curiosity, how do you find that the technology ban works for your class? Do you have a lot of participation? And if so, do you think students’ participation in discussion would disappear if technology were allowed?

    • You have raised some very interesting questions that are applicable to all of us in our educational journeys. From personal experience I believe that the use or not of technological devices depends a lot on the type of students you have in class as well. The generations are changing so quickly. In higher education we will still get a mix of students from all generations, SES, abilities etc. but in K-12 at this time there are a lot of assumptions for technology as well – for example, one common theme is that everyone can afford a device when we all know that for some people that is just not possible. I think what we can focus on as educators is to try and figure out how to utilize technological devices or conveniences to make the teaching and learning environment richer because the use is soon going to be entrenched completely in the educational systems. What do you think?

    • I always enjoy reading your posts,( and your other work!) on the digital world. Your insights are eye-opening for me. I do believe that use of electronics is an addictive behavior. It is for me. My world would change drastically if it all stopped tomorrow. I think this is where so many students are as well. Not only that, I believe some students have trouble writing, I mean writing with pen and paper. I wrote my name down for something and a young person could not read my name because they could not read cursive. Writing in print takes so much longer. I believe some students are not equipped to write notes with pen and paper. My strategy so far has been to give students the research – pen and paper notes works better for you and then let them decide. The spatial organization of the room I have now makes it hard for students to “shop” without me seeing them, so this has helped – along with a break in the middle of class to check devices, to give into their addiction. I’m not at all sure this is the best method and posts like yours challenge me to think about it.

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