I guess that I’m the last person to see this, but this YouTube video on digital technology and college education from Kansas State University made the rounds a while back. It’s a very moving presentation of how distanced students feel from their own learning and the role that technology plays in that.
From a teacher’s perspective, there are some things that you can do to keep students on task and engaged in the classroom (and make that lecture more relevant to them).
On that note, I went to a nice presentation by Diane Sieber on “Facing Facebook” recently, talking about the challenges facing college instructors with the digital age. How do you work with the technology instead of fighting it?
The results of a Pew research study in 2006 showed that, in class
- 80% of students access Facebook or MySpace
- 73% text message, IM or email
- 90% browse the web
- 45% read news or blogs
- 25% take notes
- 18% play online games
One thing that she does is to avoid Powerpoint at all costs. Powerpoint just sucks the energy out of a room, she says, and students take it as a cue to tune out. Powerpoint reduces complex ideas to simple slides, or at least students see them as reductive. It also makes lecture scripted and linear — everything is in order and there is this “forced march” through the materials. This kills any sense that there’s a risk to not paying attention. You might as well check your email and then download the powerpoints later. She uses Mind Manager Pro to create a concept map of her lecture.
She didn’t encourage banning laptops, since that penalizes students. Help students use their technology more productively, she says. There are some dirty rotten tricks, like using a “dummy” wireless router to draw wireless traffic from the main campus router to that non-internet connected router. You can also restrict laptops to the front row of class, but I’ve seen students still off-task with that method.
But more productively, she has the class create a social contract using an online wiki. She uses the wiki throughout class, and the social contract is the first thing they do. Then the whole class has bought in to the contract and enforces it. That contract always ends up including something about the use of technology in the classroom. After all, it’s distracting to other students if the student in front of them is surfing the net.
Just being aware, as an instructor, when people are looking at the screen and not touching the keyboard, can help. Call students by name to draw their attention. Walk around the class, beyond the first five rows. Have “tops down” time when screens have to be down, signalling that this is an important topic, and breaking up the pace of class. She even ran some performance correlations, showing that those students with laptops open during class had lower grades on the test –this was very surprising to students, and they changed their behavior.