Reflecting on the Role of Technology in the Classroom

 

This week I want to focus on the question of technology in the classroom, specifically how a critical pedagogy may integrate various types of technology in the classroom. It has regularly been my experience, both as a student and now more recently as an instructor, that students feel a certain attachment to having technology in the classroom. Specifically, their laptops. I want to reflect briefly on how my technology policy has changed and how teaching research methods in class requires increasing attention towards navigating the Internet. That is, I have expected students to have proficiency navigating the library website and procuring sources for research from reputable journals; however, I am usually left quite disappointed.

One of the most difficult decisions I have made with my class concerns my technology policy, specifically as it pertains to cell-phones and laptops in class. It has long been my experience as a student and instructor that laptops are often sites of distraction. Sometimes it is the more innocuous email check, which admittedly I have done myself, to scrolling through Facebook, to even seeing students watching Netflix. As a student, seeing this was usually a distraction for me and I think worsened class, as it often felt like the material we were discussing was not being taken seriously. As an instructor in my first course I allowed students to use laptops, but regularly a handful of students would sit in the back and I noticed they regularly were writing emails or on spreadsheets for other coursework. Jesse Stommel writes, “I am uncomfortable with ‘bans’ because my philosophy and values bend towards a privileging of student agency and responsibility. They have the right to make bad choices which may result in poor grades or a diminished intellectual experience. That right does not extend to harming others, but this is why I frame the classroom as a community with an ethos including responsibility to others.” While I agree with Stommel that ultimately if it only hurts the individual student it is up to them to figure out habits that work for them and suffer the potential consequences, I felt in this course it dramatically changed the discussion component of the class, as these students rarely had anything to contribute and discussion centered on fewer students.

I intervened and asked them to put their laptops away, but ultimately it was clear that the damage was done and these students never really caught up with what they missed. For the following semester, I banned laptops entirely, instead asking students to print out assigned readings and bring them to class. I explained my reasoning and past experience, and while all did not agree, this was widely accepted. I found that class discussion improved dramatically as a result and students were most focused on what their peers were saying and did not have ‘tunnel-vision’, even if they were taking copious notes. There is a digital disconnect even with the students who are using technology for class purposes where they are not engaged with the entire class discussion. Importantly, I do allow students to use it if they need to, such as for potential accessibility issues. I do not ask them to ask me for permission, but I make it clear the policy and act them to respect it if at all possible.

However, now with Zoom, I feel this is an aspect I can no longer control. The most common response I get is an overwhelming Zoom-burnout. Many students complain of having trouble focusing for more than 30 minutes on the platform. I institute breaks usually halfway through and utilize breakout groups, but I have no ability to control or really tell if they are paying attention or using other platforms. As much as I try to maximize the capabilities of the Zoom platform and adapt my pedagogy to the digital, I find it excessively difficult to recreate close discussion and get a clear sense of how students are receiving material.

 

Finally, I want to focus briefly on integrating more specifically digital methods in courses. I wholeheartedly agree with Kirschner and De Bruyckere that the myth of the ‘digital native’ is just that: a myth. It has been my experience that students are startling ill-equipped to do academic research, with over three-quarters of my students voicing that they do not know how to access library databases and journals to find sources for papers. I teach a 3000 level course that is populated overwhelmingly by juniors and seniors. I now am working on prepping for next semester an entire day that covers how to get the most out of the university’s resources, as well as how to navigate the internet more widely for pertinent sources. It is strange since I know it is common practice that librarians are asked to show students how to do these practices, but maybe they just never pay attention. In short, I think it suffices to say that it is absolutely the case that the vast majority of students are not ‘digital natives.’ Despite receiving training, they regularly fail to conduct even basic research methods in their work.

 

In short, I find the question of technology in the classroom an ambivalent one. I err on the side of having less technology in the classroom, as it oftentimes impedes close conversation between peers, although I see its potential necessities. Despite their attachment to having this technology, I have found students to be on the whole very inadequate at utilizing technology for research purposes. I am interested in hearing how others approach this issue and how they make their decisions. The basis of my decision to limit technology in the classroom (at least in terms of students with laptops) is to focus their attention on each other and to talk to each other, as well as to ensure they are printing out readings (I have received feedback that most students only skim on electronic pdfs). Alternatively, I seek to spend more time in class discussing digital research methods, since most students admit they are new or unsure about navigating the Internet for academic research.

 

References:

Kirschner, Paul A., and Pedro De Bruyckere. “The Myths of the Digital Native and the Multitasker.” Teaching and Teacher Education 67 (October 1, 2017): 135–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.06.001.

Stommel, Jesse. “Decoding Digital Pedagogy, Pt. 2: (Un)Mapping the Terrain.” Hybrid Pedagogy, March 5, 2013. https://hybridpedagogy.org/decoding-digital-pedagogy-pt-2-unmapping-the-terrain/.

 

2 Replies to “Reflecting on the Role of Technology in the Classroom”

  1. Hi Sam. I appreciate you sharing your perspective on limiting technology in the classroom. I also value your assessment of the need to train students on the use of technology such as how to conduct research using libraries and databases. I know I have assumed students know how to locate information and resources because they have been exposed to the internet with information at their fingertips, yet, for some, there has not been formal training on how and what to do. It reminds me of the days when teachers use to demonstrate how to take notes and create outlines. Some of the scaffolding has been removed with the assumption students have been trained. I also appreciate your intention of wanting students to engage with each other in discussion. I think a takeaway I have experienced through my courses as a student and in developing, class lessons are to be purposeful with the use of digital elements to promote learning. Activities such as discussion boards can promote dialogue between students and facilitate deeper conversation in and outside of the classroom. I think if parameters and guidelines are collaboratively established, technology can enhance the learning experience. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  2. I like that you highlighted the constant pro/con struggle with technology in the classroom. I feel the same push-pull even as a student sitting in class. Typing notes faster – pro. Yearning to check email – con. Programming along with the instructor – pro. Reading a social media post – con. Getting to ctrl+F my notes – pro. Realizing I didn’t focus on an entire portion of a lecture – con. I haven’t taught a lecture course before, so I haven’t had to make such technology rules yet, and I don’t look forward to needing to make this decision. I find it interesting that you found benefits in banning technology, but I don’t think I can bring myself to do this. Having all my class notes stored digitally is such a huge benefit, especially in the long term, that I don’t think I can justify taking that away from my students. Plus, they’re adults – these are their mistakes to make. The main concern I have in letting them keep laptops is the distraction toll they can have on *other* students. I wonder if any instructor has outright said, “If you’re going to browse the internet or do non-course related activities during this lecture, then please sit in the back.” It seems an odd thing to acknowledge, but certainly every class has students not focusing. So maybe it is worth it to protect the students who are trying to focus.

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