I’ve taught for nearly a decade in a computer lab where every student has access to a computer, so it catches me off guard when I run into a colleagues deliberating how to get computers (and now, tablets and phones) out of their classroom. The concern is usually that the students are distracting themselves from the lecture material by wasting time on gaming or social media sites.
To be sure, that’s a big concern, although not necessarily one that has its root cause in technology. Banning technology ensures that students aren’t on Facebook during your class, but it doesn’t ensure that they aren’t doodling or mentally calculating the seconds until class is over.
One of the big purposes to sharing engaging strategies on Circles is to make it likely that more students in your class will be engaged with you and with the material. In an environment like that, technology can greatly enhance learning rather than distract from it. But the root issue is one of engagement, not technology.
My personal approach is to treat class the same way I treat meetings with my college colleagues. Students are allowed to do whatever they want on the computers short of activities that disrupt the class. I’ll often ask the entire class to perform some practical task on the computer (visiting topic forums, searching for answers to specific technical questions, etc.) so that I’m teaching and encouraging computer use that supports what we’re learning. If I’m demonstrating some step-by-step computer task, I break it up into sections loosely called “Watch Me” / “Do It” / “Take Notes”. Even though I enjoy teaching with technology, I know that multi-tasking is a myth and that the brain needs these narrowly focused sections to deliver its best productivity. Students learn the cycle quickly and will focus fully on what I’m doing during “Watch Me” because they are no longer worried they will miss hands-on experience or the ability to take notes.
If I suspect during a class that someone isn’t engaged, I’ll look for ways to engage them specifically using one of the engagement strategies we often talk about on Circles. I’ll also make a quick mark in my attendance sheet that I can see later during grading. If a student isn’t doing well in class, that’s the point I’ll have a conversation with him or her about whether in-class time is being used as effectively as it can.
I’ll also periodically try to review what best practices other teachers and professors discover in this area. This week I found this article with tips on how to run a classroom with limited computer access, something that creates a slightly different set of challenges than the ones I usually encounter.