Rethink technology in classrooms

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The connection between the classroom and technology has become ubiquitous and inexorable. A study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln published in the October issue of the Journal of Media Education reported that American college students check their phones an average of 11 times a day while in class — a statistic that should not be surprising to college students of the modern age. Additionally, while 91 percent of students were opposed to a total ban of digital devices in class, 80 percent believed those same devices were a distraction that interfered with learning.

This disparity is baffling on the surface. If students agree that laptops and smartphones are distracting — both to themselves and others around them — why is there virtual consensus that a ban, which would surely solve the problem, is not an option?

It’s complicated. Even though it would logically make sense to force students to stow away their laptops and turn their phones in at the start of class, technology has become so integral to the lives of young people that the loss of their devices would be akin to identity theft or a missing limb.

The irritation felt by a student toward another student playing Candy Crush in class, along with the knowledge that they are also prone to mindless Internet surfing, does not seem to matter. College students balk at the seemingly extreme prospect of a total ban, indignant that professors might respect their self-control so little.

Though they may hesitate to admit it, students might be wary of the absence of this constant source of entertainment and communication. Smartphones have become shields, protecting people from boredom and awkwardness, but also keeping them from actively engaging with the outside world.

Phone-checking has become an almost arbitrary reflex, so how does one begin to work against such a reflex?

Additionally, it must be questioned whether or not the damage of a society driven by technology has already been done. Attention spans are shorter than ever — or at least, teachers seem to think so.

According to a 2012 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 87 percent of teachers believe that digital technology is creating a generation with shorter attention spans, and 64 percent say that these technologies distract students more than they help them learn.

Teachers may feel pressured to adjust their methods — to do a song and dance, so to speak — in an attempt to match even the base level of excitement and entertainment that kids have grown used to with televisions and the Internet. Perhaps taking away laptops and phones will do nothing to improve student focus, and will leave professors in worse places than where they started. Can old-fashioned focus be relearned, or is it inevitable that only professors with multimedia-based, animated spunk are able to capture and keep their students’ attentions?

Either way, it has been proven time and again that technology can be utilized to great effect in classrooms. The possibilities for educational enhancement through integration of technology are endless. Research skills, innovation, and globalization can all be advanced in curricula fused with technology. If it is true that attention spans can never return to what they once were, then it is crucial for schools to meet students halfway.

Is there an ideal compromise? Students already use technology outside of the classroom — it would be impossible to monitor email, type an essay, or suffer through WebAssign without it.

Therefore, where it is relevant and engaging, professors must bring technology into the classroom by allowing students to use phones and laptops to enhance lessons in new and innovative ways. More than possible, this possibility is the future.

In return, students’ ability — and desire — to resist the draw of the Internet will grow.