Want to get rid of technological distractions in your classroom? Here are some methods for getting it done, writes James M. Lang for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Lang is a professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College and the author of a book called Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning.
Lang acknowledges that listening and paying attention can be tough for students. A 2016 survey found that 97% of college students admit to being distracted by their phones during class, with texting, email, and social media reported as the biggest distractions. But Lang points out that technology is increasingly becoming an integral part of pedagogy, and many instructors want to harness the helpful aspects of technology in the classroom.
Lang argues that the key to balancing the need for digital tools and the need to reduce distractions is to keep students engaged through the course and give them a little bit of autonomy.
He recommends three strategies for using technology in a positive way.
1: Be clear about your rules and why they exist
There is a problem if a rule exists that no one can explain. Most faculty members ban electronics during lectures, Lang writes, but sometimes students want to know exactly why it is such a problem.
If your lecture time is primarily for teaching new information, then the answer to why the rule exists should be simple to explain, he writes. Watching videos online while the lecture is taking place, for example, would distract not only the student but those around him or her as well.
You were right—your students will interrupt anything to send a text
If the instructor uses class meetings for working collaboratively in group, then technology could be an even bigger problem. The student would be watching his or her laptop rather than listening to what classmates have to say, Lang writes.
Lang points out that it's important to explain these consequences to students because they may not be as intuitive to students as they are to you. They may be more understanding of the rule as a result.
2: Give students ownership over the rules
Students learn best when they feel a sense of ownership in the course and what is happening in it. Setting course policies and restrictions on technology will make you seem like a dictator to them, writes Lang. These feelings can impact how they perform in the course.
Instead, Lang encourages instructors to pose questions to students like, "What will interfere with your learning and the learning of your peers in this class? And what can we do to help each other?" Another idea is to open the floor for questions and even have a course constitution to codify what the class decides about technology use.
Study: 97% of college students are distracted by phones during class
Having students help write the rules on technology use will help them feel like they're part of a learning community and that you're all in it together, Lang writes.
3: Use engaging, interactive projects in class
Lang suggests that meaningful, engaging, and interactive projects will keep students focused on their work instead of their phones. He shares that he recently observed a colleague's classroom in which students set up a real micro-lending program for real people in another country who needed help setting up small businesses. The students were buzzing away at their tasks and only checked their phones briefly and during transition periods, Lang writes.
This taught Lang that as long as students are involved in active learning, with a powerful motivation such as helping people, they won't be checking their phones. Without banning phones, Lang encourages instructors to try engaging students through a hands-on project. They'll not only learn a lot, but will start to truly view their devices as the distraction they are (Lang, Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/30).
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