The technology balancing act

At the end of class last week, our discussion revolved around the idea that technology in a classroom was either a good or a bad thing. As we jostled with this issue, the last student to speak (sorry, I can’t remember your name)  proposed the idea that technology wasn’t the problem it was how it was utilized in a classroom setting that created issues.

The NPR article from this week had an professor, Jesse Stomel, who expressed similar sentiment.

“There may also be times, he says, that the phone or computer can be an in-class tool. “We can also ask students to use their devices in ways that help them and the rest of the class, looking up a confusing term, polling their friends on Facebook about a topic we’re discussing or taking collaborative notes in an open document.”

On the other hand, says Stommel, there may be times and places to shut it down, too: “We can ask students to close their laptops at particular moments, recognizing that it is useful to learn different things, at different times, in different ways.””

It is easy to say there can be times when technology is acting as a learning aid and times where is is distracting. What I see as a learning curve, as a first time TA this semester and a potential future professor, is finding the balance .

I’m curious what your experience, as students and educators, is on achieving this balance. Outside of testing environments, are there other situations where you limit technology? Alternatively, what are the ways in which you saw it as an aid in learning?

NPR Article:

7 thoughts on “The technology balancing act”

  1. Whitney, I like the thoughts you presented and the questions you’ve posed. I’ve had many thoughts about this topic in the past couple of days. It is most definitely all about finding a balance. Personally, I don’t view technology as all good or all bad – like we said in class, there is no black or white with technology, it is a big grey area. I view technology as a way to enhance the learning environment that already exists. Like you stated, if a student doesn’t know the meaning to a word or phrase, he or she can do a quick google search and become familiarized with the word or phrase without getting too lost in the classroom discussion. Also, students can group up on a google doc and have a collaborative note-taking session during a class meeting. For instructors who are fearful that laptops and phones will be a distraction, I feel that students will always be distracted at some point during a course. They might as well feed that distraction with access to an infinite amount of information (the internet) than just doodling away on a sheet of paper.

  2. Nice blog post. I am a big advocate for technology in the classroom because it is what students want and expect in their education now. This semester I am helping teach a senior level Biochemistry course with 150 students. In this class, the professor is using an education system called TopHat. ( This allows us to automate attendance because everyone uses a phone or a laptop to “join” the virtual classroom. This allows the professor to run the slideshow on everyone’s small screens at the same time as the projector. TopHat also encourages adding response questions into the slide show, so the professor can get instant feedback of how students are participating and learning the content. This use of technology is more of a way to keep students engaged while the professor is lecturing.
    I had significant exposure to technology in the classroom during my undergraduate studies where I used laptops to work on group assignments in my chemistry classes. These were POGIL lessons that presented us with a logical inquiry driven exercise to develop the knowledge and master the material as peers with the instructor as a facilitator. My professor would teach the basics, and we would immediately begin to put those basics together for more application-based learning. I feel that I understood the material better with the POGIL lessons as I learned why and how the basics were important/applied.

  3. Thank you for your post! You posed a lot of really interesting questions, and there have been some great examples of when technology can be helpful and beneficial. Most of my teaching experiences are teaching first-year engineering students. In a lot of the classes I was teaching, students were working together on projects, practicing programming in MATLAB, researching a topic, etc. So students usually had their computers out. And students did get distracted and I did see students on Facebook, watching soccer, and shopping online. But I generally did not limit the use of these devices. I tried to mix up the activities in a class so that I was not at the front lecturing the whole time (and when I was, I tried to be enthusiastic and ask questions and I would move around the class a lot). But in addition, I also had students discuss things in groups and try things out on their own. Sometimes, however, I did limit the use of technology. For example, when I was teaching a professional development seminar for first-year engineering students and we had a guest speaker, I had students put away their computers. I wanted students to engage with the speaker and ask questions.

    I am interested to hear other people’s experiences and thoughts as well! Thanks for the post!

  4. I typically don’t mind technology in the classroom but I definitely agree that there is a balance. The only times I take issue is when my eyes are on the students and their eyes are on their computer screens. I don’t usually see many students on their phones for extended amount of time. Some might take a moment to reply to a text which I absolutely do not mind. Extended social media browsing can be problematic however.

    At the beginning of the semester I like to implement a policy where computers are being used for note taking or referencing material pertinent to the class and phones are out of sight unless absolutely necessary. So far I’ve seen that most students abide by this.

  5. Finding that balance is always going to be hard, I think. #TheStruggleIsReal. I also have to admit that phones are distracting to me. If I’m in a classroom and someone whips one out, It pulls me away from the discussion. Likewise, If I’m in front of the classroom, I get distracted from teaching. So, I’ve had to kind of reframe the debate in my own mind…because I think students aren’t as distracted as I am by their phones. I think they can respond to a text while still listening. (Yeah, I don’t have their full-on attention.) But I’ve had to stop thinking about phones as the enemy to be able to think about them more positively. So it has been more about adjusting my own prejudices than student behavior. Now that I’m more positive about the technology itself, it has opened up the door to thinking about using it in my teaching more.

  6. While I will preface this by saying that my choices are specific to my discipline, I typically halt all activity together and especially with laptops. There are minor uses that I can creatively think of to use laptops, but the effort them to pull it out for a brief activity is somewhat daunting when it doesn’t get used to overwhelming majority of the time. In truth, what I would encourage them to do could likely be achieved by their phone anyway. Closed or not, the laptop itself like the phone can still be a distraction. The paranoia associated with technology use is real and can force its way into the classroom. I love technology use, but recognize that my hands are better served tied in such a conversation based on what I do. The advantages for me are so tremendous that my best policy is to restrict it altogether.

  7. I think you bring up some good thought provoking questions. How do we get that balance? It seems to me that most people are agreeing that we need technology in the classrooms but everyone is somehow ending up with these thoughts about balancing its use and ban in the classroom. I think to answer that question is a personal one and what you choose and decide to do and I feel like there are multiple ways we can make this work. Great post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *