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Beulah • 9 years ago

"...removing our choice to distract ourselves..."
I don't ban them because students distract themselves---I ban them because students who use them to distract themselves distract others who already have the self-discipline not to distract themselves.

corax • 9 years ago

yes. studies show that this is correct.

Guest • 9 years ago

Actually, from the article, the study appears to have shown that the students with laptops who were not multitasking did just fine. And as far as distractions, no, there's no evidence the students who were distracted by the laptops "already have the self-discipline not to distract themselves." That is an assumption that you and the author you are responding to are bringing to the discussion.

There are plenty of reasons some students don't bring laptops or smartphones to a classroom that have nothing to do with their powers of self-discipline (or buying into your presumptions about them). Some of those include not being able to afford the technology.

Another problem with the study in question is that such a study needs to be longitudinal. It's silly to create a singular lecture environment and generalize from that. According to the article, the research subjects weren't able to choose the subject matter, as they would to at least some degree in a class, and weren't students in an actual class, which I would expect to heighten levels of distraction in general.

Better to study the long-term effects on a class, to see how students who were actually receiving grades that mattered, in classes they had signed up for (as in the real world) were affected to such levels, AND to see whether student behavior modulated during the semester to adapt to the conditions.

All I see in this thread is people patting themselves on the back for having found some evidence, however flimsy, to support their assumptions. That's hardly a research-based approach.

And it should go without saying that a lecture-quiz model in an age where students do have access to technology and can use that technology to enhance their classroom experience reflects a rather naive approach to instructional design. Of course instructors who use a 19th Century approach to education are going to find conflicts with 21st Century technology.

Guest • 9 years ago
Guest • 9 years ago

I'm sure you'll be happy to cite them. And let's see whether their methodology actually reflects what it claims to do. The question isn't whether laptop use can be distracting. Rather it's whether laptop use in and of itself is necessarily distracting. If there are methods for incorporating laptops in ways that limit or eliminate distractedness, or compensate for it over time, then that would falsify such research. How much of the research addresses that question?

John Mark • 9 years ago

yes.thats right


maxwellaustin • 9 years ago

Author: Do you consider that you might have a responsibility to others to be attentive in the classroom, either during a lecture or during a discussion? Others may have the opportunity to learn from your participation, which will be greatly lessened if you are not directly engaged with the proceedings. If students think of class time as an exercise in community building, then this issue appears in a new light.

janetc • 9 years ago

Being in class is not the same as being at home. Why would you expect your professor or your boss or your colleagues to enable you to maintain the exact same cocoon that you enjoy at home? You don't dress the same, you don't speak the same, you don't pay attention to the same things in these different settings. Should a life guard be allowed to zone out while he/she struggles with building will power? No? Well, that's an example of a setting with clear expectations for your attention as a pre-requisite to inclusion. Every social setting outside your dorm room has them. Grow up.

Guest • 9 years ago

I would expect my boss or professor to allow me to use technology that can assist me in my endeavors and not assume that I was applying it for the sole purpose of "cocooning" myself.

There's no question that technology and the Web in particular presents massive temptations for students in a classroom environment. There's also no question that professors who rely on outmoded teaching practices and assumptions about their students' use of such technologies are going to be the most ill-equipped to design learning that minimizes those temptations and maximizes the effectiveness of the technology as a learning tool.

Guest • 9 years ago

And what do you do about the "students" who have become expert at hiding their cell phones under the table or in their open backpack during an exam?

Guest • 9 years ago

They're not experts. They're foolish children who mistakenly believe that they're invisible to adults.

blendedlibrarian • 9 years ago

"The Twilight Zone character ends up alone on earth with all the books he could want but a pair of broken reading glasses"

I'm guessing that 98% of the readers of this essay know how that episode ends, but for the other 2% you might want to add a spoiler alert.

claudewc • 9 years ago

No spoiler alerts necessary after ~50 years.

Alex Miceli • 9 years ago

I disagree since there are new audiences forming every year who do not have the luxury of the last 50 years, let alone the entirety of creative works, in their heads just because previous generations do.

claudewc • 9 years ago

Rosebud is a sled.

Alex Miceli • 9 years ago

I've already heard that one and still haven't seen the movie. If I were truly excited by an older film or book, and someone did this to me (or anyone for that matter), they would have the social skills of a turnip.

claudewc • 9 years ago

Jesus dies. Then he comes back.

cartoguy • 9 years ago

There is one aspect of this issue that is seldom mentioned in these discussions. When I was an undergrad in the 1980s, hand-writing was pretty much the only option for note taking (unless an instructor consented to tape-recording of lectures), and dominated informal communications as well. As a result I became a very fast hand-writer, and even today I can write faster than I can type so writing is still my preferred means of taking notes when I need to (I will not even go into how long it is taking me to try to type this comment out on a smartphone right now).

Jump ahead three decades and students today write nothing. Everything they do is done digitally, and they can enter it digitally far faster than they can write. Plus they are hooked on being able to use software search features to find info in notes quickly.

So frankly I see this issue as being largely generationally induced, and I made the decision some time ago that I would be doing the students a disservice if I banned from my classroom a tool that works best for them. It then just becomes another component of managing the classroom environment to minimize distractions, which we already have to do anyway. I have found that moving around the room helps, rather than just staying in the front. If you want to keep students on their toes, try lecturing from the back of the room (assuming there are no students needing to read your mouth due to decreased hearing abilities).

maxwellaustin • 9 years ago

You might be interested in this study comparing handwritten and typed notes:


cartoguy • 9 years ago

Using fewer words to take notes when writing was not the case three decades ago, nor is it the case for those of us who went through college then (at least for myself and those I know with whom I have discussed studies like this). The sheer novelty of students handwriting anything may make that material more memorable (an argument for having a laptop ban). I wonder how the quizzes were given though. If pencil-and-paper, then writing back out what was written during note-taking could give that group an advantage. There is no indication (in this news article at least) that this variable was controlled.

sara14 • 9 years ago

Of the note-typing students who had ten minutes to review their notes before the quiz, what percentage had taken their typewritten notes and summarized or otherwise organized them?

Reythia • 9 years ago

I'm kind of surprised that that article didn't list one more very beneficial effect of hand-writing notes: the tactile effect. A lot of people memorize better (even without trying to!) when they've physically written the shapes of the words out, because the FEEL of writing helps get the info stuck better in the brain. Obviously, rewriting typed notes would do this equally as well -- but let's be honest, most students who type their notes don't regularly do that.

Mike Strong • 9 years ago

Roger Fouts was hired to train chimpanzees in sign language hoping that the chimps would translate that into actual speech, except that the chimps don't have the vocal structures to allow that. The reason he was hired for the chimp language program was that previously (1970's), working with autistic kids with speaking problems, he taught sign language to hoping for better communication. They got an unexpected bonus when in learning to use their hands for sign language they also loosened up their speech centers. Those physical motions with hands are part of our communication circuitry which helps to explain the benefits of hand-written notes. Think of how much we "say" with our hand gestures.

When I was a reporter years ago my hand written notes were always more useful to me than the tape recorder I also carried and used. Generally I would mark the tape location by number in my notes where I thought I might want to go back for an extended quote, but usually just the process of hand writing my notes placed the article in my head well enough to write it out with only a few referrals back to notes and far fewer back to the audio tape.

midriver • 9 years ago

My son's fine motor skills are such that taking notes with a keyboard is much easier for him. He doesn't have an official accommodation, but attempts to do what he can on his own to make his way. Just one more thing for instructors to consider.

archman • 9 years ago

meh. I hear this from nearly all college students today. Show me a disability letter if you want to bring your toy into the classroom. I will rarely recommend otherwise, as I am far more concerned with learning effectiveness than "what's easy".

dwsingrs • 9 years ago

Is there at least one professor out there who is being blamed for not being sufficiently engaging so as to prevent students from being bored and succumbing to their siren laptops? (Is the old high school "my teacher should have made me do this, made me do that" fatuous conceit now more and more operative at the college level?)

claudewc • 9 years ago

This reply is inevitable. Give it enough time and some nimrod will say that good professors engage their students and thus make tech bans moot and only bad, boring professors ban laptops and phones.

Guest • 9 years ago

Unfortunately, there are plenty more nimrods who don't understand that good professors DO engage their students. It's an educational best practice, as a matter of fact. And part of engaging students is taking stock of and using the available resources in effective ways. Generalized protestations to the contrary aren't a very thoughtful approach to the issue, IMHO.

I'd be willing to bet money that a majority of professors who ban technology from their classes are the ones least comfortable with it and least-equipped to design their classes to take advantage of it. (That's just 18 years of experience working with higher education faculty talking, FWIW.)

Sure there are exceptions: The dynamic, funny lecturer who can hold a class's attention consistently and doesn't like a "distracted" audience. The plain, methodical tech professor who is comfortable with lecture because that's how he or she learned.

However, a lot of professors are simply used to a specific approach and feel too busy to adapt to the changing environment around them. Banning the technology is easier than changing for some people. That's understandable human nature, but it shouldn't control how we shape the future of higher education and technology.

claudewc • 9 years ago

Hi, me--you.

Thirty years experience here. For the last fifteen, I have explored which tech works and which doesn't for my classes. I have embraced some of them and rejected others, which is what "appropriate technology" is pedagogically all about.

I agree that "part of engaging students is taking stock of and using the available resources in effective ways." I allow students to use their tech in my classroom to EXPAND the classroom--"What does bloodroot look like? Google this, folks"--but not to LEAVE the classroom.
Sometimes, though, the "most effective way" for a particular professor to use technology is to ban it. Saying that this or that professor is not "good" because she cannot compete with the quick-fix pleasures of Spotify is a problem.

Guest • 9 years ago

"Saying that this or that professor is not "good" because she cannot compete with the quick-fix pleasures of Spotify is a problem."

And that's why I didn't say that. But it's not an invalid observation to suggest that *some* less engaging instructors will be more tempted to ban technology seeing it as competition rather than a potential ally. However, some less engaging instructors will employ the technology to make their classrooms more engaging. That's the kind of jiu-jitsu that good instructors do.

I also don't disagree that there are times the technology is inappropriate or doesn't fit the lesson. For example, a studio art class has plenty of moments where students should have a pencil or brush in their hands instead of a smartphone.

But the attitudes evinced by many of the comments are generalized attitudes about the technology. Prohibitionists don't tend to think in terms of specific applications, yet newer technologies are designed to offer specific solutions (or the potential for specific solutions, depending on the available applications).

So, I suspect we're on the same page. I just wish more faculty though as you do, in terms of how and when, than yes or no.

annie1987 • 9 years ago

I am a young first-year teacher. I ban technology in the classroom because I remember, when I was a student (last year), every single person who brought a laptop to class was simultaneously on Facebook. This included myself, which is why I often left my laptop at home, unless I knew it was going to be a very boring day. This was in a PhD program at a top 40 program. The technology is distracting to the best of us.

However, now that I teach, I do wish I could ask my students to google something during class discussion. Of course, they can't do this without their technology. I wonder where the balance is.

stevenlberg • 9 years ago

"I wonder where the balance is."

In my classes, we discuss appropriate and inappropriate uses of technology. Generally, most students are able to make good choices. When I want students to Google something, I ask them to pull out their cell phones. At other times, I might say, this is not an appropriate time for cell phones.

Will Carpenter • 9 years ago

Imagine you've smugly taken your place on the first day of a literature class in the late 1950s at the University of Oxford when a man in a slate-blue, three-piece suit pushes in and bellows, "Hwaet! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum thod-cyinga, thrym gefrunon, hu that athelingas ellen fremdon!" You might -- or perhaps, not -- recognise the first bits of "Beowulf," but would you be fully engaged?

(Crib sheet for the following pop quiz: it's said that Professor Tolkien could turn the lecture room into a medieval mead hall; it's fact that, together with his traditional Oxonian approach to education, he invented languages for his own amusement.)

The Quiz: Do you think Professor Tolkien would allow you to use a laptop or cell phone (had such existed), or would he require you to take your notes in Elvish script?

wskocpol • 9 years ago

Good notes include connector arrows, spatial arrangements, diagrams, and even doodles to help retain semi-consciousness and semi-focus while waiting for significant inputs. Those who just type words are at a severe disadvantage.

brettbarnes • 9 years ago

Mapping apps like iThoughts or XMind are great for taking those types of notes, or there are the handwriting apps that let you use your finger or a stylus, and some let you both hand write and type, so there are some technical alternatives to paper that are more than just typewriters.

px7_mq9 • 9 years ago

The typists are the ones who ask things like, "Can you say that again?" because they get behind in their word-for-word transcriptions. My usual response, met with frustration, is "No, I can't. Those words are gone now. But I can say roughly the same thing using different words . . ." Of course, there are also note-takers who work like dictation machines, so maybe the difference affects only a few.

Alex Miceli • 9 years ago

I'm not sure that's always the case with typists. I have said "Can you say that again?" when typing and hand-writing because of my inability to comprehend words being said and write (in any capacity) words at the same time. I've stopped taking notes all together as I have found that my memory is far more reliable than my notes. This sometimes confused teachers who had never had me as a student before as they thought I was being inattentive, until that is I showed my engagement by asking them to expand or repeating (sometimes word for word) what they said months later. My peers, and sometimes my teachers, thought that this skill of nearly perfect memorization with no notes was impressive, but I chalk it up to listening with my full attention, instead of splitting it with taking notes, to what is being said.

S.M. Stirling • 9 years ago

There's a saying "and avoid the near occasions of sin". The best way to avoid a temptation is to physically remove it. Discipline is more of a habit than a "choice", and the way to reinforce habits is to... well, reinforce them.

frankschmidt • 9 years ago

"Banning laptops—removing our choice to distract ourselves—is giving up on students, isn’t it?"
Actually no, Ms. Short. Banning laptops is an indication that I trust that my students are smart enough and hard-working enough to learn.

railprof • 9 years ago

You had we with you until you admitted to watching Sister Wives. Then I lost it. I'm sorry.

Dissident • 9 years ago

The author makes a parallel between laptops, music players, Facebook and other social media outlets to books, poetry etc as being the distractions of new and old school, respectively. This is a weak parallel in my opinion. Although I don't discredit social media, I don't remember the last time Facebook has inspired me to think bigger. I do remember books and poetry doing that. I guess this can point the baffled author to why some professors may ban laptops. School isn't just about "getting the work done."

stevenlberg • 9 years ago

I often write about appropriate uses of technology; including Facebook which can be used to inspire thinking bigger. I addressed this issue in *Naked Celebrities and the Academic Value of Facebook* (7 Sept. 2014). http://www.stevenlberg.info...

Reythia • 9 years ago

While I love to read, as well, I fail to see how my surreptitiously reading a mystery book in the middle of class would help me learn statistics (or whatever) better. The author's point isn't that books are as "bad" as Facebook, but that if it doesn't have to do with the class you're attending, you shouldn't be paying it attention in class.

Guest • 9 years ago

I wish they would ban power point slides. I could easily read the slides at home...

hafajc • 9 years ago

The students I have these days protest STRONGLY if they do not have a power point presentation. They seem to feel slighted, or that it really wasn't 'a class' unless there is an associated power point presentation--a copy of which they have the inalienable right to possess.

mname • 9 years ago

I wish they would ban power point slides. I could easily read the slides at home...any class over the size of twenty students should be moved to an online MOOC. If you are a teacher and your students in the back are not paying attention and distracted on their laptops it's because you have not engaged them. Are you boring and inept or is the classroom just to large? The amount I paid for education in mandatory attendance classes for me to only return home and then watch a much better TedTalk, youtube, or KhanAcademy video is truly horrifying. I don't blame any of my teachers, it's truly a failure on the administration and it isn't getting any better. If you get stuck teaching a class larger than twenty students then please at least get a remote control and walk to the back of the room and give the lecture from there. Point to people ask direct questions.

rahodeb • 9 years ago

Your analogy to old school analog distractions misses the mark. Those kinds of distractions do not affect the other students in the room as much as a laptop or a cell phone does. If you look up from the screen occasionally, you might be more aware of this. Also, I found your essay kind of incoherent, which it might not have been if you had been more focused.

Tony DePrato • 9 years ago

This "study" - http://www.cbc.ca/news/tech...

Does not prove nor indicate anything. I hope no one reading this sees the experiment as valid, or even reasonable. The study has an invalid design, and the sample is equal to a cola taste test at a local WalMart.

I have been working in international schools where kids are doing IBO courses. Every IBO school producing students with high scores and top university placement, is a laptop school. (At least the 75 or so schools I have been in contact with.)

In fact, before I was working in administration, I was teaching 150 students a year. My students would not be able to parse the amount of information required by the IBO without a laptop, or regular computer access.

Students still takes notes, but they take them anyway they want. In fact, students between 16-18 seem to know what methods of note taking work well for them, and as a teacher/administrator, I monitor their note taking and make suggestions until a method that suits them is found.

I have had students who did everything by drawing. Others used programs that were designed to focus note taking by locking all the windows and applications away until a password was entered.

Many use services like Google Docs and do comparative note taking and group note taking with friends.

Every subject the students have to complete requires an immense amount of file and data management.

Math, Science, Art, Computer Science, and Music all have multiple software packages required to complete the curriculum.

Over an 8 year period, I have had many students come to visit or write from university. Universities in Canada, the USA, the UK, Asia, Australia, etc. Most would say they found the transition into university life, and the pace required, on par with their senior year in high school.

The main issue I have with the comments in this post, is that I have helped plan and prepare educational technology programs for the last 8 years. I have designed programs that have required technology for 1000s of students. These students are now headed to university, and apparently, they need to learn to slow down and close their laptops.

Some curriculum topics do not require technology. However, many do, and if you are requiring students to write, I can only assume they are sometimes submitting work electronically. If they are using software to make final content, then they should have the ability to use software to make drafts and notes.

In this article, "Laptop use lowers student grades, experiment shows", the description under the photo reads, "Laptops are now commonplace in classrooms, and its not unusual for students to be on social networks, playing games or watching movies during class. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)" .

I hope everyone realizes that as a school, it is not impossible to manage security and control things like social networks, movies, and games. Most school's, including universities, simply work on a very old IT management model that does not allow the network to have flexible ways to manage the needs of various groups of people.

Usually, a school has most of the hardware and software it needs to implement what is required to stop entertainment and social networks. However, it only works if you plan and think like a school, and avoid planning and thinking like a company.

I challenge anyone who really believes that the core problem is technology to take real steps to prove it. I firmly believe the problem is in the curriculum, the lesson delivery, and the lack of adjusting to students as they change.

If proof is required, then this is what must be done. Forget about laptops. Turn off the Wifi. Turn off the internet access for students during lecture times and normal study times. Prove that success is possible with notes, text books, library resources, and all the things that were used to design the curriculum delivery. This includes no internet for teachers as well. Prove that the organisation can teach and learn with the knowledge and skills they possess, and the static resources they own.

As for myself, I know I can do it. Living in working in places that lack infrastructure force one to learn to construct a curriculum to meet the demands and limitations created by the situation.

If you take the challenge do it long enough for the students to take a 3rd party assessment of some type, and compare it to a school or group who has not taken the challenge. If you believe prove it. I think if technology is damaging students, the argument should be settled.

harleymc • 9 years ago

I'm going through my third consecutive course where all course work is digital, there are no lectures as such, simply work to be completed with teachers/ tutors available during limited times to problem shoot if students can't complete an exercise.

Maybe the idea of trying to compete with digital is a flawed model.

archman • 9 years ago

Silver bullet? Ha ha.