With school starting for many this week I'm wondering if less is more when it comes to technology in the classroom. We often assume that technological advances (such as laptops and smart phones for example) may help students learn better. Yet there seems to be problematic unintended consequences with so many of these devices. As I start my 18th academic year teaching here at Santa Clara University for the first time ever I'm planning to ban laptops and cell phones/smart phones from class. Why?
Sadly, while laptops in the classroom are ideally supposed to be used for taking class notes and perhaps accessing class related academic information on the internet they seem to be mostly a vehicle for social media (like Facebook), surfing the web, and for email. Students (and others) often falsely believe that they can multitask by doing several things at once but the reality is (and quality empirical research confirms this) that we really don't do two things or more at once very well at all. We just quickly switch our attention from multiple tasks and thus never fully attend to any of them. In fact a research study recently found that students who used laptops in the classroom performed as well as students who failed to show up for class! That seems to say it all.
Easy and quick access to email, phone texts, social media and the like are just much too tempting and demand a great deal of impulse control to avoid. It is very hard, for example, to eat your healthy dinner when there is a delicious dessert staring at you. Technology in the classroom is like that, isn't it? Asking college students to focus on challenging and thoughtful academic work while Facebook, web surfing, and phones texts are just a quick glance away is really too much to ask.
So, as school begins this fall, I'm banning laptops and cell phones in class and perhaps you should think twice before bringing technology to the classroom too. It seems to be the right thing to do. Responsibility and integrity in the classroom has little place for Facebook and the like.
What do you think? If you are a student, an educator, or a parent you might want to weigh in on this issue.