GUEST POST: Technology in the Classroom
By Althea Bauernschmidt
Dr. Bauernschmidt @drsilverfox is a professor at St. Bonaventure University where she teaches courses on cognition and memory. She is the co-director of the Center for Attention, Learning, & Memory and co-author of the forthcoming book: Five Teaching and Learning Myths Debunked: A Guide for Teachers. You can also read Dr. Bauernschmidt's previous Guest Post on concrete examples.
Chances are that you are reading this from your phone. Or, if you’re reading this from computer, you probably have email notifications within view. It’s 2017, and technology is all around us. If you didn’t already know that, there is an endless stream of articles, blogs, and books dedicated to talking about technology. Technology in the classroom. Technology in the work place. Technology in society. Technology in some places that make me feel deeply uncomfortable. Whether you’re a “technophile” or a “technophobe”, it is difficult to escape the conversation surrounding the use of technology.
My general stance on technology is ambivalent. Technology in and of itself is not good or bad. It’s not going to save us all, but it’s not going to cause the downfall of civilization as we know it, either. Adding technology to your classroom isn’t going to turn it into an overnight success. Going without the latest classroom gadgets doesn’t make you irrelevant or out of touch.
To help sort through the hype, here are a few technologies used in the classroom with a discussion of their pros and cons for learning.
Not all bad… The biggest thing these presentations tools have going for them is how easy they are to use. Teachers and students alike are familiar with them and feel relatively comfortable making and sharing presentations. Teachers can easily edit and update old slides/presentations, which helps keep lessons fresh and up to date without having to start from scratch each time. Students can and will request copies of slides or presentations to help them take notes. From a learning standpoint, these tools can be especially useful because they help with dual coding. Presenting verbal and visual information together helps learning because it gives you two ways of remembering the same thing.
Not all good… It can be very easy to misuse presentations in a way that makes students multitask. Talking over slides without giving students time to read and then write down notes forces them to switch between reading, writing, and paying attention to you. Be mindful of what you are demanding of your students in these situations. Instead of talking through slides, give students a moment to read and process what is on the screen before launching into your explanation of it. In addition, pay attention to what kinds of visuals you are giving students. It may be best to break down the presentation into smaller segments, provide pre-training on some concepts, and remove redundancies and extraneous material.
All in all: Presentation tools can be great in the classroom because they are easy to use and promote dual coding. However, you need to be mindful of how you present information and whether you are forcing students to multitask.
There are a variety of ways in which technology can help you and your students use retrieval practice From websites devoted to making flashcards, like Quizlet, to websites and apps that allow you to use interactive quizzes and surveys in the class like Socrative or Poll Everywhere.
Not all bad… Online quizzing can be an excellent tool to help students practice retrieval. These tools will be more effective if they can ensure that students are spacing out their retrieval and interleaving their practice. Online quizzes and surveys can not only be an easy way to use retrieval practice in class, they can also provide real-time feedback on student performance and perceptions. They can be used as activities instead of formal assessments, and because you can give students the option of seeing the results, these quizzes can be interactive and engaging.
Not all good… Using online quizzes in class may be a quick and easy way to use retrieval practice in the classroom, but it requires students to bring and use laptops, tablets, and cell phones in order to use them – most of the time (see Plickers for an interesting way to do retrieval practice in the classroom without putting the technology burden on your students). These devices can encourage students to multitask and divide their attention away from you. Think about the impact of these devices in your lesson when you plan to use online quizzing in class. Another pitfall to be aware of with user-generated flashcards, like Quizlet, is that students may use flashcards generated by other people, which may not be as relevant for your class.
All in all: Online quizzing can help students practice retrieval and can be a quick and easy way to use retrieval in the classroom. The ability to get real-time feedback on student performance without having to grade is especially appealing. However, you need to be aware of how the hardware (laptops, tablets, and cell phones) affects attention and multitasking.
Laptops, Tablets, and Cell Phones... oh my!
Personal laptops and tablets are becoming increasingly popular in the classroom. As laptops become smaller and lighter and tablets become more powerful, they are easier for students to bring. Conversely, cellphones are already small and portable and are acquiring more and more apps and computing power by the day.
Not all bad… Personal laptops, tablets, and cellphones have awesome computing power and capabilities. They provide students with access to a multitude of resources - from word processing programs to the internet. When used correctly they can help students engage with material, generate new examples, apply what they have learned, and use retrieval. When we talk about tech in the classroom we almost always are talking about technologies that can be accessed by these devices. As such, there are a lot of ways these devices can help us. They can help promote active learning, help with retrieval practice (see above), and much more.
Not all good… Laptops, tablets, and cellphones in the classroom can be incredibly distracting for both the student with the device and the students around them (1). Having these devices out makes it easy for students to do multiple things at once - check Twitter, type notes, and listen to the teacher. In other words, laptops and tablets encourage multitasking. Even if a student doesn’t use a laptop, if they see other students’ screens they are easily distracted by the notifications on their screen and end up multitasking, too. We are so highly trained to pay attention to these devices that the mere presence of them hurts our attention (2).
All in all: Laptops, tablets, and cellphones can be the gateway to any number of helpful and educational activities. However, these devices are designed to grab our attention away from whatever else is going on in the room. Be mindful of how your students are interacting with their devices and the devices of others when you incorporate their use into your lesson plan. Tools like Cold Turkey and SelfControl can help you get control over multitasking by blocking distractions.
As teachers, we are responsible for deciding what works best in our classrooms. Any amount of guilt over using or not using these technologies should be put away immediately. If you have an awesome activity that involves pen and paper that helps out in your lesson, use it! Don’t worry about not being on top of the trends. If you have an engaging class project that involves campaigning with twitter hashtags, great! Keep doing that. Technology is a tool. As a tool, we should be using it – not the other way around, being controlled by it. The key to using, or not using, technology in the classroom is an understanding of human attention and how various activities and technologies hurt or help attention and learning.
(1) Sana, F., Weston, T., & Cepeda, N. J. (2013). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education, 62, 24-31.
(2) Ito, M., & Kawahara, J. I. (2017). Effect of the presence of a mobile phone during a spatial visual search. Japanese Psychological Research, 59, 188-198.