Distraction or Opportunity? Embracing Tech in the Classroom

ComputerAn abridged version of this article was published by EdTech Magazine on July 25, 2013.

It’s common for students to bring laptops, tablets, and smart phones to class. But what happens when they’re turned on? From the viewpoint of the lectern, it’s hard to tell if students are using their mobile electronics for educational goals or browsing the Internet. And are their actions distracting their peers?

As a Manager of Instructional Technology, I’ve had the opportunity to observe several lecture hall courses ranging from 40-100 students. Sitting in the back of the classroom gave me a great view of the students’ computer screens. I was pleasantly surprised to find in a class of 100 students only one student was on a Web page other than the course Learning Management System, the downloaded lecture notes, or a Word Document. Pretty impressive.

These observations support the hypothesis that students are using computers in the classroom to aid in their instruction. How does it aid in their instruction? Professional students use the opportunity to make additions and annotations to downloaded class lecture slides or transcribe the lecture using word processing programs.

Yes, it’s more difficult to call your students’ attention away from the computers in order to get them to participate openly in discussion. Technology is not a distraction in the classroom, but if you want dynamic discussion and interaction with students, do just that, interact with your students and encourage discussion, don’t lecture “at” them. Minimal interaction during lectures results in students’
“hiding” behind their computer screens. They’ll shut the computer screens and contribute worthy discussions if the lesson is dynamic.

Alternatively, technology can be used as a teaching advantage. Students who are introverted may find it easier to participate in class if they can do so via technology. Incorporate tools such as polling technology and back-channel blogs to have students participate with the computers they are already using. These tools can allow for anonymous participation and contribution to the class without students’ feeling cornered or in the spotlight. Ideas can be free flowing with the disinhibition associated with anonymous contributions. Conducting lessons with anonymous participation means we need to rethink traditional participation grades.

In addition, using these online technologies to encourage participation can be beneficial in interacting with all students, not just the select few that raise their hands and speak up in the limited class time. Every student can contribute by answering polling questions and typing their responses into a class website. These tools can also be beneficial because the class discussion can be continued outside of class, thus opening up a broader learning environment.

It’s not just about how students are using computers in the classroom, but how the use of computers during class impact students outside of class. Students prefer to take notes electronically so that they don’t waste valuable study time transcribing hand-written notebooks to a digital notebook. Digital notes results in better use of students’ study time. Students are able to do keyword searches for documents and topics to locate specific information quickly, collaborate and share notes with their study groups, and prepare written work quicker by copy and pasting direct quotes from their pre-typed notes.

Students are going to use laptops and mobile devices in the classroom. Embrace the technology and work with your Educational Technologist or Instructional Designer to determine the best tools and methodologies to enhance your course with technology and support the course objectives.

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About Julie Tausend Burba

Instructional Designer at Hulu, Ed Tech and Project Management enthusiast. MBA Technology Management, MS Management, BS Communications, Traveler and Cook.

Posted on September 12, 2013, in Educational Technology, ePortfolio Pieces, Instructional Design, Tausend Talks Shop, Teaching Tools, Technology Management and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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