Should electronics be banned during class?

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.   

Yondr system.jpg


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. 






15 thoughts on “Should electronics be banned during class?

  1. Hi Ziyad,

    I really like your point about the added expectation of immediate responses and how it relates to our attachment to our devices. I feel the same way. Because we now have access to our phones/laptops, and therefore email and other work documents at all times, there is often an unspoken expectation for immediate replies. I sometimes forget my phone at home and am not checking my email throughout the day, and will be chastised for not having responded to something within a few hours.


    1. Diana, that this is one of the downfalls of being constantly connected. I think that is why we now see a huge focus from technology companies in developing virtual personal assistants that are AI driven to take care of such tasks.


  2. Being an international student, I sometimes hear phrases that I don’t know the meaning of, or sometime I need to quickly check the pronunciation of a word before speaking in class. Being able to use my phone is extremely valuable to me at these instance and it effects my confidence for participation in class discussions greatly. I am sure I would the ever-quiet student if laptops and phones were banned in my classes.


    1. Arash, there is no doubt that having these technologies at our fingertips is valuable. If used constructively during class, it can help students fill any gaps in their understanding. They are supporting tools for finding resources, definitions, or as international students, word meanings.


  3. Hi Ziyad, do you think we still need to listen to the teachers even their lectures are very boring and useless? I have encountered this situation, the teacher apparently did not prepare well, so no students are listening to him seriously. In this case, the teacher is not qualified to ask the student to respect him because he does not respect the student at first.


    1. Ruixiang, thank you for your reply. I agree with you that most students have been in a class where the teacher or the topic was boring. I believe that the teaching process is a two-way channel. In this case, students should provide constructive feedback to their teacher in regard to their teaching style or topic. On the other hand, there is one thing that is harder change and that is motivation. Teachers who don’t have the passion or the motivation to teach are doing a disservice to themselves and their students.


  4. This week’s readings (and, with that, this post) got me thinking about reconsidering my own electronics policy; though, still, I’m torn. While I realize that technology isn’t conducive (well, at least most of the time) to a productive learning environment, I don’t want to be this hierarchical teaching figure dictating what students do/do not have permission to do. However, even I—a person who genuinely wants to learn and who cares about her grades—have a hard time paying attention when my laptop is open.

    Nonetheless, you point out an important cultural shift that needs to take place—one that dissuades us from our belief that we need to immediately answer all technology. However, if being efficient and productive is highly valuable, then why are we encouraging multitasking when it’s proven to not work?


    1. Leslie, having an electronic policy is valuable. Even with the benefits of technology, students can easily be distracted. That is clear in the shortening attention span of younger generations. Adding to that problem is that we keep convincing ourselves that we should multitask in order to be more productive.


  5. I agree with you somewhat on the electronics policy. I think for me the critical engagement of the student in the classroom is why I don’t want laptops present but am more ok with tablets you can write on. For me, having your attention when you look up is vital as opposed to having a screen between us. I particularly think this is true in more technical/ lecture style classrooms where “turning off” is so easy. That being said I struggle with hard rules. I think I’m more in the camp of “have your phone on do not disturb or silent” but if you need to make a call then you can. I don’t want to outright ban you being reached in an emergency and I can list times for me, when my grandparent was very sick for instance, that I couldn’t pay attention to material if I tried, without the technology present. I think I’m very anti technology in the classroom but more because students don’t ask questions and then don’t process material.


  6. I think you bring up some really great points about the pros and cons of allowing student to use technology in class. I certainly feel the pressure to stay connected as a professional, which can make it hard to keep my phone in my pocket — and frankly anxiety-inducing to turn it off. Additionally, as a student, I just hate having a lot of notes on paper because they tend to be unorganized and I often throw them away instead of archiving them, so I love being able to handwrite notes on a tablet.

    However, I suppose I’m kind of a hypocrite since as a teacher or presenter, I feel like I am less effective when students use technology. Perhaps, it’s something that I just need to work on, but there have been many times I see a student typing something on their phone, taking a picture of a powerpoint slide, or just snickering at their laptop at a moment in class that is in no way humorous, and I just completely lose track of what I’m saying. I’m inclined to wonder if other presenters have the same issue and if it’s something we have to consider in making policies about technology.


  7. Ziyad, I 100% agree with you that electronics in the classroom can be a double-edged sword. There are many digital tools that can be incorporated into the classroom. One thing that immediately comes to mind (because we do this in the class I TA) is using digital platforms to give in-class quizzes in large courses; its so much more time-efficient than handing out and collecting scantrons from all students. But any time you allow devices in the classroom, there will be some students who are looking at something unrelated on their screens (I’m sure most, if not all of us have been guilty of doing this at some points. I know I have.) And as an instructor, it can be quite difficult to try to have a conversation with a room full of people who are staring at their computer screens.


  8. Thank you for your post! I felt myself nodding along as I read it and agree that technology is truly a double edged sword. I often find myself glancing at my phone during class to see if I have any urgent emails, texts, or phone calls to respond, which in itself is pulling my full attention away from the lecture. However, at the same time, as a mother, I feel that deep rooted need to stay connected in case of an emergency. Given the current culture of technology and the constant need to be connected, I feel that asking students to close their laptops is a great step towards engagement in technology free classrooms. However, the terminology of “banning” technology completely does insight anxiety and I feel may cause unneeded tension between students and teachers.


  9. Technology can definitely be a double-edged sword that both can both enrich and distract from our learning and the learning of those around us. To me, it is really about balanced technology use. I don’t think it will ever be effective for us to make strict no technology policies and try to force students to comply. That would just be an extra burden on the teacher and be an annoyance for the students. Maybe explaining the positives and negatives of technology use to our students at the beginning of the class, establishing moderate guidelines, and then leaving the final decision to the students (unless there is a specific situation that needs to be addressed) may be a good route.


  10. Hey Ziyad, there is no disagreement on the argument that use of technology is a double edged sword. But again it depends on the teacher and how he/ she is allowing the students to use the technology in the class and how students are using the privilege of having the technology. (Like right now, I would not be able to write my comment on your post if technology were not allowed in the class room)!


  11. Thank you, Ziyad, for your nice blog. While I agree with most of what you have said, I don’t agree with this sentence: preventing electronics would let the teacher have a full attention. To me, being attention is not just listening but reacting and understanding what the teacher is saying. In my humble opinion, we shouldn’t strictly prohibit using electronics, but to allow using them during class only within predetermined slots. This is to give a chance for addicted-electronics students to use their electronics and don’t get bored.


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