It is time to declare my experiment of a more relaxed technology policy officially over and a probable failure. I had been tired of students endlessly texting while in class, checking their Facebook timelines, and doing who knows what else on their laptops. The final straw was the time when someone was observing my class and later told me that at least six people had been online when I thought I had finally convinced them to be technology free. Instead of trying to fight it anymore, I decided to try the opposite. I declared technology welcome in my classroom. Students could work on their laptop, text, check Facebook, etc., as long as they followed three rules: 1) They couldn’t make any noise with the technology that would disrupt class; 2) They couldn’t text each other during class, and 3) They couldn’t hide their technology use.
My new reasoning was that students already were using technology surreptitiously, and if freed of the need to hide their technology use, they could at least focus the rest of the time on the class. I also decided to not think of the technology in a resentful way but simply as a new information environment. Technology was an inherent part of their minute-by-minute existence. Just like their yawning during class was not a sign of boredom, but an involuntary reaction to a late night, technology use was not them being rude but a part of their need to always be connected. I decided that if I continued to make my class interesting, relevant, and full of information that would later be assessed, they would be drawn in. I also hoped that, given that the technology wasn’t a forbidden fruit, they wouldn’t feel the need to unnecessarily use it.
I had some fond moments with my new policy. I remember teaching a class on the politics of breastfeeding, and several students independently texted their moms to find out if they were breastfed, leading to an interesting discussion (though I wonder what their moms were thinking about those texts). I also had to learn not to be threatened by the constant use by students of Wikipedia to either test or enhance (depending on my self esteem that day) my ideas.
Sarah Wike Loyola, a high school Spanish teacher, talks about how new technology changes the focal point of the classroom. My college holds regular seminars on using new technology to enhance teaching. I was now on the cutting edge of using my classroom as new teaching tool. Except, I wasn’t. Sure, there were times when students used the technology to enhance their learning, but most of the time they were just talking to their friends and updating their social media while in the classroom (#MyProfJustTrippedOverAPowerCord).
So, next semester, I’m going to reverse again. The classroom can be one of the few places left in society where we aren’t distracted by technology. As Neil Postman asserted, education shouldn’t always be entertaining. Perhaps learning how to be still and even bored at times is the best skill I can pass on.
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