We are all only too well aware of the problem of student focus. The teacher turns her back for two seconds and at least one student is taking a peek at Facebook, or Youtube, or something else they shouldn’t be looking at.
The question – what do you do about it?
Apparently, you do not close down the laptop screen while the student is in mid-surf. You might get arrested, suspended and find yourself on the receiving end of a battering case. This is what happened to a lecturer in Valdosta State University in Georgia recently. I accidently slammed a laptop shut quite hard on my fingers (purely by accident of course, and now I cannot for the life of me remember why!) a number of years ago. Both laptop and fingers survived undamaged. I imagine it would take some severe force indeed to cause injury to either.
Student inattention and self-distraction is a problem that is not going away. Stories like the one in Georgia don’t help. They just add to the frustrations of the problem.
There is increasing evidence that our young folk are experiencing addiction problems with their technology devices. Headlines such as” Facebook generation suffer information withdrawal syndrome” and “Student ‘addiction’ to technology ‘similar to drug cravings” are frightening but need to considered and acted upon. Students are reported as “having withdrawal symptoms, overeating, feeling nervous, isolated and disconnected, they don’t know what to with themselves or their time” when they are deprived of their technology in the “Unplugged: living without the media” study currently underway. The action of the student, reaction of the lecturer, and subsequent reaction of student in Georgia doesn’t seem quite so strange now.
Plenty of suggestions are given of alternative courses of action. Examples suggested by commenters on the students’ behalf include: don’t be so rude in a classroom, don’t take the laptop to class, or don’t take yourself to class if you plan to play on your laptop right through it. This is all good advice but unlikely to be taken up by a student who simply cannot resist the temptation to sneak a peek at that Facebook.
For the lecture, advice seems to follow on practical terms e.g. “the student should be asked to desist, asked to leave the lecture theatre if they won’t desist – but if they refuse to do even this, then it wouldn’t be fair to the other students to disrupt the lecture further – so a formal verbal warning should be issued, and from then on, a formal disciplinary process should be commenced”. The commentator then goes on to say that very few universities are likely to have such a formal system in place. There is no mention either of what to do there and then when the student refuses to leave the room and refuses to un-facebook.
Another commenter laments the banning of internet connectivity in the classroom, suggesting that the lecturer integrate laptop usage into their lesson plans. The commenter goes to say that s/he has “established a back channel chat room in which students can discuss the class or anything else for that matter during the course discussion. This keeps them from going on Facebook and focuses them at least marginally on the business at hand”. Hmmmm, one wonders about the “marginally” and what the “anything else” is. Integration of the social tools so beloved of our students is not easily integrated into every facet of classroom teaching. While I like the idea of the back channel, it is difficult to see how it solves the problem.
What, then, is the solution?
Do we need yet another label to slap on students? No!
Do we want to ban technology from the classroom? No!
Do we simply ignore the student(s) who Facebook their way through class? No!
Do we bar the Facebooking student from ever sitting in class again until they mend their ways? No! (we might be kept waiting some time for them to return)
Do we have individual lesson plans for each student so they cannot claim to be bored or that the teacher is moving too slow / fast for them? No! (how many students do you have, on average, in your classes?)
It’s Sunday night, I’m back to watching the golf.
It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m messing around on youtube. Here are some gems I’ve stumbled cross.
First up, what might an honest and upfront conversation with a particular type of student look like? Oh dear, oh dear! Go on, admit it, you smiled, just a little bit…..
Second up: there are a number of these type of videos blowing about on youtube and to say they annoy me is putting it mildly. No, I don’t have a problem with the message. There is a lot of truth in the message. I have a problem with how it’s put across. Isn’t it ironic that the kids are using hand-written cards to get across the message that they want to use more technology? And why are they so glum? Cheer up, for crying out loud, and go read a book.
Actually the video reminded me of a comment I read recently (apologies, I cannot remember the site) from a first year undergraduate complaining that they don’t do anything interesting in IT class Instead they spend the time doing the ECDL syllabus. While I commiserated with the student’s position, the student needs to know that syllabi are not always decided by the teachers who deliver it, quality control procedures typically mean that a syllabus cannot be deviated from much, what one student considers boring is highly stimulating to another, and finally, ECDL is a good foundation in IT. A problem is that ECDL might not been studied by all students in their prior learning while others proudly show off their certificates. This causes particular problems for a teacher – what do you do when the majority of a class have already done all the material while it’s brand new for a sizable minority – without causing feelings of inferiority / superiority, without operating double standards, etc?
Third on the list: I quite like the ideas in this one, even if the whole thing is meant to be a parody. The iPaper is an interesting idea in and of itself.
Fourth is another futuristic one. This one takes a pot shot at the nonotechnology movement. How small can things really get? Have we reached the practical limits on size? Or, the more likely scenario, are there applications out there for tinytech that we are still exploring – those applications are just not the ones we already have?
And, finally, a century of educational technology chronicled in one youtube video. The early part of the 20th century had the radio, gramaphone, and the silent / talkies movies but not all educators used them. Then along came WW2 and things really sped up technologically but to what extent did the tools make it into the classroom? By the time the 1970s calculators were the cool learning toy of the day. Yet, as I recall, it was to be many years later before students were allowed use them in exams. Scroll on further and you have youtube and Facebook and a whole lot more social media, and many educators don’t use those either.
The lesson: new media, its applications and levels of usage are relative to the time. Technology has never really had a fundamental effect on or caused a radical overhaul of how school/college based learning and teaching takes place. It’s still predominantly desks and chairs and a teacher delivering. New technology comes along and supplements or complements what’s already there. As tools (Sony walkman, anyone?) go out fashion they are replaced by others (Apple ipod, anyone?).
The words educational reform have been heard for years and years. Technology has been changing and evolving for decades. Yet there hasn’t been any fundamental change in how teaching and learning takes place. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?