First of all, I think we all agree that using electronics during class for non-class related work is bad classroom etiquette. Students should not be overly invested in their devices during class. Class time should be an opportunity to unplug and focus on the task at hand, learning. Browsing the web, following others on social media, or even shopping are some of the activities students should detach from during class.
As Darren Rosenblum points out in his article “Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom” that listening and communicating are two skills necessary for students to effectively benefit from classes. Darren highlights studies that prove that multitasking and other distractions during class affects students ability to retain information. Even brief distractions can degrade students ability to keep up with class. This has pushed Darren and others to ban the use of electronics during class. An NPR report highlights how some schools went even further to lock students phones. The school featured in the report uses technology developed by Yondra, a company that provides secure pouches that lock students phones. The report shows that adopting such policy is paying off as teachers now have students full attention.
On the other hand, resorting to such measures may increase some students anxiety. In the current academic environment, students and teachers are expected to be connected at all times. For example, replying to emails is expected to happen promptly. Such academic culture encourages multitasking to keep up with work. Consequently, being efficient and productive is highly valuable. Jim Tylor provides a logical explanation to what we perceived as multitasking. Tylor redefines multitasking as serial tasking where we shift “from one task to another to another in rapid succession.” In fact, serial tasking might be hurting us more than making us more efficient. So, what does that mean in a classroom setting? It means that students who do other tasks rather than engaging in the lesson are lowering their comprehension. Moving from one task to another requires a transition time where the brain needs to calibrate in order to catch up with the lesson. This lag time can significantly cut on our ability to keep up with the main task, which is: attending class.
There is no doubt that with fewer distractions, students engagement will improve. This engagement can also help teachers manage classes better. Simple feedback tools such eye contact can help teachers navigate class smoothly. For me, using my computer during class helps me catch up with concepts and ideas that might not be explained during class. Also, I see an immense benefit in utilizing electronics to collaborate with classmates on tasks.
Electrons are two-edged tools. They can be both distracting and beneficial. It how we use them that defines which edge are we on.