In the past two weeks, two essays have appeared that have struck me as I consider the use of technology in the classroom.
Ditch the Laptop and Pick Up a Pen, in the Washington Post, extolls the virtue of taking notes by hand rather than with a laptop. The other, Apple Watch: Coming to a Classroom Near You? discusses the responsible use of technology in the classroom. Both these articles position themselves against students using screen-based technologies in the classroom, but it is not curmudgeonly.
The investment of college and university is high, and optimizing it, as B.J. Fogg of Stanford says, is important. Students who find themselves distracted by an Apple Watch or the presence of the internet on their laptops do themselves a disservice in their classes. Furthermore, they can distract their classmates.
Does this all mean that I’ll ban laptops, tablets, and smartwatches in my classroom? Probably not. I see some value, in immediate fact-checking and making connections can contribute to a more meaningful classroom experience. However, those things can also happen outside the confines of a 50 or 75 minute class. Students can annotate their hand-written notes with reminders to check on the spelling of a name, or to verify the dates of a book’s publication. And that won’t distract.
More broadly, what does this mean for teaching? If students remember class concepts better when they have to synthesize information, rather than typing furiously in an attempt to get every word in a file, does that affect how I teach? I will argue that No, it does not. Active learning does not have to be technology-based. Students are bombarded with pixels often, and many enjoy an enforced break from it. Using technology just for the sake of using technology is pedagogically and cognitively irresponsible. Instead, instructors need to exercise creativity in encouraging students to consider alternative solutions, not seeing technology as a panacea.
It’s important to teach students how to learn on their own, and how to see the world for what it is, and not through a pixelated screen.