Tech in the Classroom: Dedication or Distraction?

Photo provided by Alex Veeneman: A professor has no way of knowing what students are doing on their laptops or phones in class.

Nicole Krage, Advertising Manager

While some professors allow their students to use cell phones and laptops in class, others force their students to stealthily check text messages under the desk or briefly check Facebook before quickly switching back to a Blackboard tab or a blank Microsoft Word document. Using technology in class can be distracting, but can it be prevented?

Lewis University’s Coordinator of Event Services, Lisa Salazar, who also teaches a special events class on campus, is one of the seemingly few professors who doesn’t have a no-cell-phone policy.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” she said. “I do say something at the beginning of class – that I assume that they’re all adults, that they’ve paid for their classes, that they have some interest in passing them, and that if they want to use the technology, that’s fine, but I ask that they not be on social media and things.”

If she notices that students are directing more of their attention to their phones or laptops than to the class, Salazar will walk around the room as she lectures, but generally, staying focused in class is the student’s responsibility.

However, Salazar does know that this freedom can be distracting. If a student is using their laptop to take notes, they could be tempted to check sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

“I think we get into this mindset of doing multiple things at a time … and now that everything is so accessible, students can get caught up in that,” she said. “Somewhere your brain is going to be pulled away. You’re going to be distracted, and you’re going to miss something.”

If using technology in class, even with the intention of using it for schoolwork, can lead students astray from the lesson being taught, should professors enforce a no-technology policy? Would it help?

These temptations and distractions that come with technology are the precise reasons some teachers don’t allow it at all. Dr. Jamil Mustafa, a professor on campus and chair of the English Department, includes his no-cell-phone policy in his class syllabus. But sometimes it isn’t that simple; Mustafa still sees cell phones being used in class, but it’s not always Twitter updates and Facebook posts.

“Something I’m going to have to start thinking about in the future is students taking notes on their smartphones,” he said. “The problem is: how do you distinguish between a student who’s taking notes and a student who’s texting?”

The question is exactly that – how do you distinguish between the two? The student could even be doing both. Laptops tend to make that dividing line even more blurred.

“The challenge with laptops is you never quite know what the student is doing,” Mustafa said. “So unless you can see their screens, you have no way of knowing.”

Even when a policy is in place, technology is still being used, and even when it’s with good intentions, the potential for distraction is there.

Technology etiquette is not only relevant in the classrooms with students, but with adults as well.

“I’m on a board for a professional organization, and one of the requests at the beginning of the board meeting last spring was, ‘Unless you’re the secretary taking notes, put your device away. We want you completely here,’” Salazar said.

Teenagers and college students are thought to be the ones glued to their phones, but adults are drawn in, too.
“No matter how effective somebody is at multitasking, they can’t be fully present at any of those activities,” she said.

Technology is always going to be present, regardless of whether professors or instructors want it to be. Sometimes it will be used to write papers or do research, and other times it will be used to tweet, post and catch up with friends. No matter the reason, it’s a habit that no policy can seem to break.

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