Tuning into Technology: Five Ways to End the Electronic Device Battle in Your Classroom
Is it more productive to wage war on distracting gagets in the classroom, or to employ these devices into the learning process?
As the 2011 school year commences, administrators, teachers, security guards, proctors, and other adult personnel on campuses nation-wide prepare to take on the technology war their students unfailingly present each fall through spring. Cell phones, portable gaming systems, cameras, headphones, Mp3 players, iPods, laptops, (did I mention cell phones?) and other devices consistently creep their ways onto our campuses and into our classrooms. Despite our adamant rules, endless supply of detention slips, and willingness to confiscate these iniquitous gadgets upon sight, more than 95% of high school students bring a cell phone and/or music playing device (such as an iPod or Mp3 player) to school every single day. Most of these cell phones have internet, music playing, and camera capabilities. It is a phenomenon that extends across all socio-economic barriers. As educators, we must ask ourselves one question when tackling this matter in our classrooms and on our campuses. Shall we attempt to beat them, or join them? This educator prefers the latter.
We teachers are given 50 minutes per class to conquer the impossible. Every year our class sizes increase, our standards are raised, and the pressure to perform intensifies. For our students, this translates into larger peer (and dating) group gatherings, distracted teachers, and prime opportunities to show off their new smart phones. Technological accessories rival brand named athletic shoes and designer jeans among this generation of teenagers and their complex systems of achieving desirable social statuses. Our enforcement on the ban of these precious accessories naturally pits us against our students before they even enter our classrooms. Instructional and relational classroom minutes are intended to provide a counter balance to correcting and redirecting minutes that serve as learning blocks and unnecessary distractions. Attempts at beating our students in this campus technology war have proven futile. There are more of them, less of us, and their will is stronger. Whether we accept it or not, or like it or not; these devilish devices are in our classrooms to stay. Rather than declare war on your students or raise your flag in defeat, consider the following five options to reach a compromise and promote learning through mutual respect in your classroom.
1. Allow your students to use their music players (with headphones) during independent work sessions. This allows students to zone into their own work despite peer distractions. Even better, research indicates that multisensory engagement actually promotes synapse growth in the brain during the learning process. Eminem may actually be assisting your student with sensory retention!
2. Encourage students to use their cameras or phones to photograph and store important information from the board or textbook. Old fashioned note taking may effectively assist students with organizational processing and retention of information, but it is only one of many tools in the well prepared teacher's kit.
3. Elect research assistants in your classroom, whose job entails using smart phone internet capabilities to access the internet. This will allow particularly disruptive phone users to stay on task with more regularity. If the offending phone has a purpose, so does the offender. The offender then becomes a collaborator, and shifts his role in the classroom from one of conflict to one of productive function.
4. Allow students to text themselves homework and other important classroom reminders, and allow them to text learning partners. This will scratch that infectious texting itch, and may even establish a network base among classmates in your room. This will also ensure that your students receive important information. Teachers should take caution against forcing students to text information to themselves or others, as this may be a costly assignment for some. Administrator and parent permission should be obtained before implementing this suggestion into your lesson plan. If these precautions are taken, this step can be a promotional one toward accessible, user friendly communication between your students. This will develop colleague type relationships between them, preparing them for the impending workplace.
5. If all of your students have internet access, set up a class wiki or online bulletin board to encourage collaborative learning. Structured completion of assignments, conferencing for clarification of classroom discussions and assignments, peer support, and format familiarity are all benefits of including an internet based componet to your instruction. This engages your students through their own common language: technology.
When choosing sides in the technology war on your campus this school year, consider the productive potential to be attained if your students are engaged in their educational process through their own weapons of distraction! Perhaps easing back on enforcement will promote learning without your students becoming any wiser to your secret strategies.