To Tech or Not To Tech... In College Lectures

It’s that time of year again. The semester/quarter is about to begin. Some of the faculty talk online is about course prep or what strategies to use on the first day to break the ice. One thing that also is of concern is whether or not to allow electronic devices in class. The recent Chronicle of Higher Education blog post by Anne Curzan (originally posted on August 15, 2014, but reposted by the site on August 13, 2015), makes the case for no laptops in the classroomShe mentions the study in 2013 that show that multitasking is an utter failure. She also mentions how having a laptop open can create such a distraction that it lowers learning outcomes of not only the owner of the laptop but anyone who can see the screen. Finally, Ms. Curzan also gives note to the understanding of how long-hand writing helps improve memory and learning.

I was just recently engaged in a Facebook discussion where I expressed my opinion about the use of electronic devices in my classrooms. I have an Electronic Use policy included in all of my syllabi. I only allow electronic devices for those students who have made arrangements with the Disability Services Center on campus. One of those who shared online was a college student who prefers not having laptops in class. For him, they are most definitely a distraction. Another contributor, a faculty member, said that we should not fight the tide or behave like babysitters for the students. He does make a good point. On some level, these are technically adults. But neurobiology shows that they are not yet “done”. Sometimes the brain’s frontal cortex is not completely formed until we are in our early 30s. So to think that we are dealing with adults, is to set yourself up for frustration.

For me, it is simple…I don’t “phone it in”, so I ask students to not do the same. We all have busy lives, and I respect that my students are juggling almost full-time jobs in addition to full-time course loads. I get it. But during the hour and 15 minutes we are together, I ask for attention and engagement. Slowing down the mind and focusing on one thing will make the course more engaging, and the learning more meaningful and long-lasting. College is expensive, so I try to give my students the very best possible experience. The rest is very much up to them.