This may be controversial and I may draw a fair amount of criticism from my techno-friendly teachers, but I don’t allow my students to use technology in the classroom. No cell phones, no laptops, nada. I am not technophobic. I have tons of gadgets, I research technology, I run a blog you may have heard of, so my objection to technology in the classroom is not borne out of ignorance. My concern is that students use technology to check out of my class and not to enhance it.

My first teaching gig was as a recitation instructor for a 250+ class. I sat in the very back of the class during every lecture and almost every screen was on Facebook or some other unrelated site. I know my students can’t stop themselves from surfing the web during class time, because I can smell my own. When I took a graduate methods course that required every student to be behind a laptop during lecture, I too couldn’t help myself. It would start innocently, I would look up the difference between grand mean centering and mean centering in Hierarchical Linear Modeling and next thing you know I would be reading about some D list celebrity news. If I can’t help myself how can I expect my students to?

You Are Not a Single Cell Organism

The above is what I tell my students on the first day of every one of my classes. I tell them that single cell organisms use osmosis to pull in what they need from the outside world. They, I tell them, are unable to absorb class information simply by showing up. I make the joke that if they were going to text their BFF, read a newspaper, or sleep during class they may as well do it in the comfort of their home. This isn’t a brow beating. I just try to be as honest and as non-judgmental as possible. They need to know how to set themselves up for success.

“Virtually all multitaskers think they are brilliant at multi-tasking and one of the big discoveries is, you know what, you’re really lousy at it. It turns out that multi-taskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking” -Dr. Clifford Nass (Timestamp: 10:40)

To help make my case I show them a recent PBS Frontline video that looked at how college students multitask at M.I.T. and Stanford. In both cases the students interviewed thought it was, “unfair” of teachers to deny students their technology because we “have to accept” that they are excellent multitaskers. Unfortunately for the very confident students in the video research suggests that most multitaskers are terrible at it. Watch the first 11 minutes of the video below to see both the interviews and the scientific research being done.

Teaching in a technology free environment comes with responsibilities. If you are going to demand your students undivided attention you owe it to them to provide a rich, interactive, and compelling class*. It’s not fair to demand all eyes on you and then drone on behind a podium reading prepared notes. If you are going to request the students be present then you have to do more than simply be present yourself. I have encountered faculty who believe they are “owed” the attention and respect of their students. While this may be true, this must be reciprocated back to the students. You “owe” them an outstanding education.

I have found that many students groan on the first day when I make them put away their laptops and cell phones, but after a few weeks they don’t seem to mind. If you can give your students a class that they are engaged in, they won’t miss their gadget distractions for long.

*To be clear I use technology in my classes all the time. Videos, websites, multi-media presentations, and music are a big part of what we do during class time.

Below is the blurb I add to every one of my syllabi:

Use of Personal Technology During Class
Because this class is highly interactive and your participation is important to its success, the use of personal laptops, iPods, and cell phones during class is prohibited.