The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mobile Devices More Than a Distraction

Mobile devices can be a distraction in the classroom. Teachers know it and studies have shown that gadgets not only distract users but also peers sitting nearby. But there are some on campus who are starting to understand it’s all about how the devices are being used.

“We are trying to figure out the place of mobile devices all across campus,” Christopher Clark, assistant director of the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning, Notre Dame University, South Bend, IN, told Campus Technology. “Faculty have to realize the world is changing and people are using mobile devices in new settings. I dislike banning technology from the classroom altogether. Laptops are not banned in the real world, so I think we are in some sense doing a disservice to students by not teaching them their proper use.”

What’s needed is education and clear guidelines, according to Clark. Students need to understand appropriate behavior concerning the use of laptops and smartphones in class and faculty members should be willing to tell students when it becomes annoying.

“What we are seeing is more syllabus inserts that address how mobile technology will be used in the class—with a clear pedagogical rationale,” said Matt Kaplan, managing director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

CRLT research has found that while mobile devices in the classroom can be disruptive, students also report a higher level of attentiveness, engagement, and learning with professors who integrate laptops into their teaching. Michigan professors have seen an increase in communication with students, who use their laptops for collaborative writing and peer review through the use of Google Docs.

While education and guidelines from instructors help, institutions may need to step in.

“It may be time to have the discussion about whether there should be a blanket policy,” said Bethany Wilcox, a graduate student from the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has studied the impact of cellphone use during class on final grades. “We may have hit the point where the university has to address that question.”

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