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Tech-less Classrooms are Missing the Point

Published: Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 19:03

College professors across the country have started to ban laptops from their classrooms, because they are drawing students' attention away from their lessons. Unfortunately, the professors aren't paying attention to the real problem.

The problem isn't the laptops; it's the students and the teachers.

Students who want to be in class will at least try to pay attention, even if they have a laptop, a phone, eight different books on their desk, and David Blaine doing card tricks out in the hallway.

Students who don't want to be in class—who find the lesson unorganized, uninteresting, or unconnected from the real-world—won't pay attention, even if they have no distractions.

I wasn't there, but I assume not everyone paid constant attention in classrooms of the 1970s either.

If students want to pay tuition, skip all of their classes and fail, they should be free to do that. If students want to pay tuition, come to class, distract themselves with Facebook and fail, they should be free to do that. The only line that should be drawn is when students start to distract others who have paid their tuition and are trying to learn.

It is not the teacher's responsibility—in post-secondary education—to help a student that puts forth no effort, get a good grade. It is the teacher's responsibility—at every level of education—to do everything that they can to help those who are trying, not necessarily to get a good grade, but to teach them something.


It's connected to what author Sir Ken Robinson calls "a false plague of ADHD."

"Kids are living in the most intensely stimulating environment in the history of the Earth. They deal with more information in a day than we dealt with in a year," says Robinson.

"We're penalizing them from getting distracted, and from what? Boring stuff... We should make the program more interesting."

Sometimes even the students who do want to be in class have difficulty staying involved in a lesson for an extended period of time. It has to be the teacher's goal to minimize the time students' minds are elsewhere, not blame technology.

I take all my notes in a notebook and a pencil, but even if I am interested in the lesson and my cell phone is off, it's impossible become absorbed into what anyone is saying for the duration of an hour-long lecture.

So if I pull out my cell phone to read the latest Tweet that I have received, it's not always the teacher's fault. It doesn't take very long to read 140 characters; and I'm right back with the lesson.


In a population where the majority of people are visual learners it doesn't make sense to take away the most visually stimulating items. The key should be to incorporate the technology into the classroom, not eliminate it.

PowerPoint in itself is no longer a good visual aid, it's everyday life. A good presentation, however, can still be the base for a great lesson.

The University of Texas at Dallas and Purdue University have integrated Twitter directly into classes, Skype is being used to teach foreign languages, students are connecting with cell phones, and everyone involved is watching the scores rise.

If studies are done on how eliminating tech turns out, I'm interested to see them, but ultimately it goes back to the users.

 

Patrick Reddick writes The Eclecticist blog for The Cube. He is on Twitter @oyaran1058.

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