Devices in the classroom? Things to consider

The benefits

Without distractions, her students are more actively engaged. “Philosophical discussion is a team sport that requires refraining from conversation and activities that do not contribute to the discussion, actively listening to each other, and working with each other."

The challenges

It may not be realistic to stick to a primarily tech-free conversation (“I can't do this forever. I’m going to have to use texts online, as much as I would like students to handle the physical object.”) but she worries that the growing prevalence of digital, verbatim note-taking means students are not synthesizing concepts and putting off the actual learning for later.

Takeaways and best practices

  • Simmons uses humor in the first class meeting to dispel any misunderstanding about whether instructors see student attempts to use devices discretely: “I say, ‘I know you think you can text and I don’t know about it, but nobody looks at their lap and laughs.’”
  • She encourages students to meet with the instruction team for special requests to use a note-taking device. Though she’s prepared to make a modified arrangement, she’s never received a request.
  • On occasion, she will ask that students access a piece of information on their device, allowing some flexibility to utilize technology at key moments.

Bottom line

Candid discussion about the policy and the ways in which devices can enhance – or detract from – learning gives students ownership of their classroom experience. “Something is missing in the classroom with overuse of devices. This is a time that we have together to talk about ideas, and it's kind of rare. We want to use it in the best way that we can.”