Higher ed’s ‘to ban or not to ban’ debate

woman typing

Our recent admonishment to “dive in” with digitally-enhanced teaching represented one of many voices in the heated debate about how to address the seismic shift that personal technology has prompted in our classrooms.

While some educators are fighting this trend and arguing for the maintenance of more traditional, low-tech practices and environments, others are calling for acceptance that classroom tech is here to stay.

In one of the most even-handed and articulate pieces we’ve read on the issue so far, James M. Lang of the Chronicle of Higher Education makes his point right in the title:

“No, Banning Laptops Is Not the Answer: And it’s just as pointless to condemn any ban on electronic devices in the classroom.”

Lang sums up what he sees as the bottom line this way:

“Sharp people on both sides of this debate speak from deep investment in their work. Perhaps they can all agree on one thing: This problem is not going away. Devices have backed their way into high-school and elementary classrooms, and students in college will continue to want access to tools that have been present since their earliest school experiences.”

Lang says that laptops are like any other classroom tool; we need to build policies around them to ensure that students use them effectively:

“Set the class ground rules at the beginning of the semester. Explain that their laptops should remain closed for the first 10 minutes of every class, while they participate in a group effort to recall and reflect what was learned in the last session. Or if you end class by asking students to write down one main concept they drew from the course material that day, and then invite a handful of students to share what they wrote, your policy might be that laptops are always closed for the final 10 minutes of class.”

While this focus on laptop use is addressing more of a higher-ed audience in which note-taking is necessary, this is timely reading for every TESOLers grappling with rampant cell-phone in class.

Trepidation about new technologies’ adverse effects is as old as the ages, but the solution is not to pretend the technology does not exist. Be a Lang, not a Luddite: embrace the challenge.

Go deeper:

> Check out the resources shared in this article — especially the UC Berkeley tips!

> Ask your teaching colleagues how they approach students’ personal technology use in class. See if your more tech-comfortable peers will let you observe their class to get ideas for your own teaching.

Discussed in this post:

Lang, J. (2016). No, Banning Laptops Is Not the Answer. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 12 September 2016, from here.

What do you think of Lang’s suggestions? Let us know in the comments!