Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Electronic Classroom Etiquette
This week's Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article commenting on how professors feel challenged by the distractions which laptops, cell phones, and other mobile devices afford students in their classrooms. As described in the article, many students are making poor choices...surfing the web during lectures, IM-ing or emailing off-topic, and generally not taking advantage of classroom dialog. The author makes a good point that we need to create a better ethos of responsibility around the classroom use of mobile technology or "e-etiquette."
I teach every day in classrooms where my students have laptops and I understand this concern. Students need to be taught what is okay and what is inappropriate. They also need to learn to take advantage of class discussion to hone their communication and critical thinking skills. These skills will produce agile flexible learners -- one of the dictums of the 21st century skills report. However, I don't think that removing the technology is the answer; I think teachers need to learn management strategies to skillfully make use of technology which supports and enriches classroom dialog and resources.
Being able to seamlessly integrate virtual classroom tools broadens the opportunity for participation and extends the discussion beyond the time and place of the classroom walls. A simple strategy is to teach your students what "half-mast" means: the laptop screens must instantly be put half-way down so they cannot be seen (for purposes of discussion), but leave the computer on for instant transition back to an electronic activity that supports the learning context, such as taking notes, researching a website, back-channel chat rooms, posting on a discussion board, or collaborating online.
When I was a student I took all of my notes for every class using a tablet. It gave me an unprecedented level of organization. At my fingertips I had every note, every email, every resource that I'd ever explored. When the teacher mentioned a name or topic I was unfamiliar with, I could google it and was able to contribute more to the class discussion because of this. When the teacher presented a topic I had their powerpoint slides in front of me to annotate. I could switch to a concept-mapping program to brainstorm and organize ideas that were being presented. I could pull up Excel to calculate my grades. Using Windows Journal or OneNote I scrawl my notes, doodles, and diagrams that help me absorb what the teacher is saying. I draw diagrams at meetings of who is sitting where to help me remember names/faces, and who had made what contributions. I can't imagine not trying to give students this same tool. It is so powerful. They just need to be taught how to use it appropriately for their own benefit.