Blog 36

Dealing with the distraction of students’ personal devices


Susan Murtha, Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Health

Monday October 11 2016

There have been a number of online news articles expressing the issues and concerns (from both the prof and the students perspective) around students bringing their computers in the classroom:

The articles are an interesting read and provide some useful suggestions. In sum, banning laptops is only a short-term solution to the inattention/distraction problem in lecture halls. In fact, one has to be careful about establishing a policy of banning laptops because it might be a disability rights violation particularly for certain students with specific types of learning disabilities or motor control problems. If you allow only the students who have a right to use a laptop to use them, then you end up making all other students aware that that one student has a disability, something that violates their right to privacy. Instead you might want to

1) strongly recommend that students not use them, and explain your reasons why (distraction for others, detrimental to comprehension)and support your rationale with the evidence (see (Sana, Weston, Cepeda, 2013)). This leaves the decision in the hands of the learner.

2) You could use the fact that students bring their own devices often to class (laptop, smartphone) as an aid to the students’ learning. For example, have various groups of students search for articles in ejournals (or have them look in the popular press) for supporting or negating arguments for something you are presenting in class and then have some of them report back to all. That is, use their technology to think and learn more about a concept, pair with others to discuss more deeply, and share with the entire class.

3) Finally, as a way to maintain students attention so it is less likely that they will seek distractions on their laptops see this one hour webinar on how applying the principles of cognitive science to the design and delivery of your presentations can have a lasting impact on what is remembered:

Has anyone tried one of these strategies (or something different) for dealing with the distraction of computers and smartphones and how did it work out for you?
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