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Laptops: Take a Hard Line or Give In?


The research seems pretty clear: allowing students to use laptops during class (even to take notes) is detrimental to learning.  Here's a quote from one study:


Two groups of students heard the same exact lecture and tested immediately following the lecture. One group of students was allowed to use their laptops to engage in browsing, search, and/or social computing behaviors during the lecture. Students in the second condition were asked to keep their laptops closed for the duration of the lecture. Students in the open laptop condition suffered decrements on traditional measures of memory for lecture content. - The laptop and the lecture: The effects of multitasking in learning environments




StudentLookingAtPhone.jpg So the question for us teachers is whether we should draw a hard line and not allow their use during class, or, take a slightly different approach: don't allow students to use their laptops until you stop every 15 minutes and give students  a 1 minute "tech break" so they can check their devices: Should College Professors Give 'Tech Breaks' In Class?


I admit that this either-or could be simplistic.  Doesn't it, after all, depend on how we use computers in the classroom? If all we do is lecture for 75 minutes, maybe we shouldn't blame students for getting bored and checking their devices.  Maybe the problem of using devices during class will disappear if instead we integrate computers in the learning process. Examples of this are here in this community:


 I think they will.


Because some subtle - but important - limitations with the research on the negative effects of device usage is that perhaps the negative effects of using computers:


  1. depends on the content students are learning
  2. occurs only for students with certain personalities (high in impulsivity perhaps) 

So the issue is complex.  But I wonder what you think about this "tech break" idea? Maybe for content that is particularly complex and which doesn't lend itself well to participation (like learning about the standard deviation perhaps) a little break every now and again to check our devices is not a bad idea...?


Since I teach technology, my students are in front of computers during my class so it really doesn't matter if it's their laptop or our desktops. However, they do seem to have more connectivity issues when using their computers, which can be disruptive.  At least I can "freeze" their computers during class, if needed to keep them from being "distracted" while I'm trying to explain something important!  


How do you do that Sandy - "freeze" their computers? Can you turn the wi-fi connection on and off somehow?  That would be neat....a little button on the podium that turned off the wifi. Of course, students in the other classes might get upset about that...Smiley Happy


Just wondering about what you meant by this.


No, I cannot turn wi-fi off; it's just the desktop computers I can project my screen to.  99% of the students use the computers in our lab and those will laptops are told to shut when I'm projecting..>:)


I think it depends on the length of the class. I teach 3 hour classes and my students get a break every 50 minutes for 10 minutes. I think that is enough time to do  a "tech" check. I do think that shorter classes, 90 minutes or less that do not have a break should allow a "tech" check. After all, we/students have a short attention span so maybe giving them a break would help with the retention of the material being presented.

Frequent Commenter

Although my school policy prohibits the use of devices in class, I allow them. My students are allowed to have cell phones face up to monitor time, view messages, and use their dictionary app if needed. I allow students to use cell phones and other devices to view their e-book. I ask them to respect class time and most do not abuse my trust. It seems that most are content to be able to see the device and monitor it. One summer I tried to teach in a computer lab and allow them to work through assignments as I taught them in class. It did NOT work well. They attempted to work as I taught and missed explanations. I do find projecting the e-book and activities helps to focus students on class better than constantly looking up and down.


Interesting idea Janet.  You say you "project the ebook and activities" during class.  I assume you do this as you show them the parts of the ebook you want them to focus on - or when you're working through the directions to the activity...?

Frequent Commenter

I project my e-book almost every day in my Spanish classes. I use it to explain vocabulary using pictures, then go straight into practice with the text activities. I have them reading, writing, speaking and listening right away. I also display the grammar concepts albiet after I have explained them as a review and continue with the practices. I utilize the projector for showing the in text chapter reviews for test and have the students answer. I find the students stay on task better and it allows me to focus on them and their responses instead of writing on the board as much and having students constantly looking back and forth between me and the text. I have even thought of passing a wireless keyboard to have the students fill in answers but haven't gotten one yet for my classroom.