Published: Thursday, February 25, 2010 10:27 PM CST
Growing up in the 1990s, we heard a lot about the promise of technology. When our elementary school classrooms were retrofitted with Macintosh LC II computers, school districts bragged that they were on the cutting edge of technological advancement. Back then, that meant Math Blaster, Reading Rabbit and Number Maze.
Technology in the classroom can facilitate learning for college students too. It can be as simple as typing notes instead of writing them out, or as complex as using social networking and instant messaging technology to interact with other students. What’s clear is that technology has the power to change the way we learn.
Unfortunately, many professors aren’t hopping on board the tech-train. We’ve really seen the issue come to a head in the past few semesters. It used to be that only a few students had laptops or smart phones, so policies on their use were non-existent. But now that iPhones, MacBooks and WiFi-capable iPods abound, professors are being forced to address their use in class.
It’s been polarizing, and professors seem to be split into two camps. We’ve all had both kinds: In one corner are the professors who’ve banned cell phones and laptops from their classrooms altogether. Penalties range from light to insane — 10 percent off a student’s final grade for each infraction, or confiscation of the laptop or cell phone until the next class period.
We understand professors’ concerns; really, we do. Technology can be distracting for both the student using it and for his or her neighbors. The impression of seeing a student fiddling with a smart phone or laptop must be that he or she isn’t paying attention. But we’d like to tell these professors why they should reconsider.
First, we pay you to teach us, not to babysit us. We’d go on, but that would digress into an entirely separate editorial.
Second, the minds of our generation work differently from the minds of yours. Conditioned by Mario and YouTube, we’re used to doing more than one thing at once. Multitasking is an art, and we are Picasso.
Third, prohibition, for the most part, doesn’t work. We don’t stop using technology; we just get sneakier about it.
And, fourth — probably the most important reason of all — you’re missing opportunities to engage your students if you don’t consider technology as a method for communication and collaboration.
Take Google Wave, a web application that was built from the ground up for collaboration and interaction. What if, instead of hand-written, easy-to-lose, messy paper notes, students were allowed to work in the cloud of data, taking notes together, making suggestions to each other and chatting in real time about examples from class?
For some, it’s not hypothetical. Take Jacob Groshek’s Jl MC 342 class. Sick of policing his classroom, Professor Groshek decided that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. He began allowing the use of smart phones and laptops, and even created a Twitter hashtag for his class. The students took it from there.
Groshek said he hasn’t noticed a decrease in learning outcomes or grades, and students with laptops and cell phones are, for the most part, aware of what’s being discussed and able to answer if called upon. So students tweet and wave away. They learn, they collaborate and they’re happier for it to boot, since they don’t feel like the classroom is a prison.
Our advice: Be a professor, not a cop. Students will get along just fine. And we might even learn in ways you’d never expect.