Policing Over – Tech in the Classrom

I gave a presentation about using technology for active learning at the Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning Lilly Conference last week in Newport Beach and I knew when planning the presentation I better address some of the pros and cons of allowing technology in the classroom in the first place.  Based on the other narrative out there — I realize it is a hot button issue… a simple google search will validate the fact that people tend to sit in one of two camps on this issue.  Should technology be banned from the classroom or allowed? Though I was biased going into the presentation, I decided to research the issue to provide a balanced perspective for my attendees.  Little did I know, my own perspectives — and in fact, my own technology “policy” might be impacted.

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A little about my story… for several years, I banned technology from my classroom due to the fact that students seemed to be very distracted, which distracted me; I just didn’t think students could be trusted to make responsible decisions on how to dedicate their energy during class.  I regularly policed their technology use to make sure they followed my rules.  Then, a few years ago I began to use technology extensively in my teaching activities so I was forced to reconsider the technology ban.  I allowed students to use technology but reminded them to use their devices appropriately.  After all, not only do I like to use my computer in classes (since I can type really fast) and but I also like students to use technology for activities in class, so there was no way I could ban them anymore.  But I didn’t just allow them outright — I had many caveats; I told students that it was obvious to me if they were sending emails or on Facebook when they were supposedly taking notes and if they were caught, their participation grade woulB3Y30H_2895014bd suffer.  Of course, I always had students who broke the rule and I had to address it with them; I should clarify… I have had issues with undergraduate and master’s level students exercising poor judgement with technology.  I even recently had a student who claimed to be taking notes when it appeared to me that she was typing at the “wrong times” and looking down at her crotch for long periods of time (where her phone was).  I gave her a stern warning and told her that I would be removing participation points.  She went back to her regular behavior that night in class. Policing technology use takes my energy away from teaching and well, it just becomes a major source of frustration.  Clearly, my approach was not working. But I hadn’t decided how I would or should adjust my approach — yet.

Conducting research for my presentation was a really useful process and DID help me reconsider my own approach.  I was surprised to learn that in almost every study I found, taking notes on the computer was far less superior for developing an understanding of complex information.  Yes, people who take notes on the computer can type A LOT and
3041954566_ff428d4d38_otake almost verbatim notes, but most of the studies show that this behavior only enables them to be able to regurgitate facts.  When asked conceptual questions — like about the MEANING of what they heard, they fell behind those who used pen and paper (Hembroke & Gay, 2003; Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).  Fried (2008) also found that laptop use distracts both users and their peers…. not good news for tech in the classroom.  However, , I should clarify that these studies looked at classes that use lecture as the primary mode of instruction and lecture (on its own, with no learner engagement) has proven to be one of the least effective teaching strategies (Halpern & Hakel, 2003).

On the other hand, use of technology in the classroom facilitates positive outcomes including increased satisfaction with group projects and overall satisfaction (Driver, 2002)
blogger-336371_960_720; enhanced active exploratory learning, more meaningful interactions between students and with instructor (Barak, Lipson, and Lerman, 2006)
; higher participation, more interest in learning, and greater motivation to perform well (Trimmel & Bachmann, 2004)
; and even the opportunity for students to use instant messaging to make comments or ask questions “silently” (Granberg and Witte, 2005)
.  These studies were not conducted in lecture-only classes, they were done in classes where technology was deliberately integrated.

So now that I’ve presented both sides, what would I do? Well, I will continue using technology for active learning in my teaching and mix in short lectures.  But, to be honest, I’m done with policing technology use.  I agree with Schumann (2014) … my students are old enough to vote, serve jury duty, join the armed forces, and most are old enough to 635781889201768756-321843318_adultdrink legally; I need to believe they’re mature enough to make appropriate decisions on how they wish to devote their attention in class.  Plus, if I’m actively engaging them in the course content, hopefully they won’t have to try to hard to make the right decision.  I believe my job is to educate them with the resources to make the best decision, and then let them be.  So, like Seiber (Fischman, 2009) did in her study, I plan to show them the research on the impact of irresponsible technology use so they CAN make a responsible decision. Then, I plan to let students be responsible for their own behavior.  Policing over.

How about you… given the information I’ve provided, do you think technology should be allowed in the college classroom?



  • Barak, M., Lipson, A., & Lerman, S. (2006). Wireless laptops as means for promoting active learning in large lecture halls.  Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38, 245–263.
  • Driver, M. (2002). Exploring student perceptions of group interactions and class satisfaction in the web-enhanced classroom. The Internet and Higher Education, 5, 35–45.
  • Fischman, J. (2009, March 16).  Students stop surfing after being shown how in-class laptop use can lower test scores. The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/students-stop-surfing-after-being-shown-how-in-class-laptop-use-lowers-test-scores/4576

  • Fried, C. B. (2008, April 1). In-class laptop use and its effects on student learning. Computers & Education, 50(3), 906-914.
  • Granberg, E., & Witte, J. (2005). Teaching with laptops for the first time: lessons from a social science classroom. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 101, 51–59.
  • Halpern, D.H. & Hakel, M. (2003).  Applying the science of learning to the university and beyond: teaching for long-term retention and transfer.  Change, 25(4), 36-41.
  • Hembrooke, H. & Gay, G. (2003). The laptop and the lecture: the effects of multitasking in learning environments.  Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 15(1).  Retrieved from http://www.ugr.es/~victorhs/recinfo/docs/
  • Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: advantages of longhand over laptop note taking.  Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168.
  • Schumann, R. (2014, June 15).  In defense of laptops in the classroom. Slate.  Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/06/in_defense_of_laptops_in_the_college_classroom.html
  • Trimmel, M., & Bachmann, J. (2004). Cognitive, social, motivational and health aspects of students in laptop classrooms. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 20, 151–158.

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