If you can’t beat ’em…

One of the ongoing issues I have in my classroom is accommodating students’ computer use. I won’t ban computers, as I don’t want to punish those who really do use their computers for class purposes, and to be honest, working with these issues has forced me to take a hard look at my teaching, adapt, and (I hope) become a better teacher.

Last week, as I was reviewing my school year and thinking about this very issue, a colleague sent this article my way: “What They Are Really Typing.”

While I am horrified (though not surprised) at what students were observed typing, I agree with many of the comments that distractions have always existed in the classroom; we have to be savvy enough to address them.

What works for me?

  • I include the following technology use policy in my syllabus. Yes, students frequently try to violate the policy, but having one at least establishes my expectations.

“Please respect your classmates’ use of class time and my use of the class time and use your laptops only for class-related purposes.”

  • I don’t use PowerPoint presentations except when I need them to present graphs, charts, photos, cartoons, etc. Because PowerPoints are usually chapter outlines, students think they can get the information from the book later (even when I tell them I am presenting material that’s not in the text), and then they move on to Facebook, ESPN.com, or something more interesting. Instead, I write notes on the board, which seems to promote note taking and paying attention. As one nontraditional student told me: “If it’s on the board, I assume I should be writing it down; if it’s in PowerPoint, I figure I can look it up later.”
  • I make students write more in class. In fact, except for exam days, I think we wrote nearly every day last semester, whether that was composing a message, revising poorly written text, or analyzing an audience. As long as the computer occupied their minds and hands as they worked on an activity, students were not using their computers to surf the Internet or check their email or Facebook feeds.
  • I ask students to not use computers if we are engaging in discussions or activities that don’t require note taking. Humor helps, so I usually phrase my request as “Please pay attention. I can promise you that nothing will happen on the Internet or your email that you need to attend to in the next 15 minutes.”
  • It’s a little awkward given our cramped classroom, but if I notice people who are not likely using the computer to take notes, I try to walk to the back of the room as I’m talking and engage the student in conversation. It’s not terribly obvious or intrusive and seems to redirect students well. And of course, if I can’t walk around the room, I can still call on students who do not appear to be paying attention for whatever reason and redirect them to the discussion.

I’m sure there are many more suggestions. What do you do to address the use of computers (or other electronic devices) in your classroom?

One thought on “If you can’t beat ’em…

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