Jeremy Littau is an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania who focuses on media and technology. The topic became intensely personal when he noticed something interesting about the students in his classes.
Those who brought laptops with them, purportedly for note-taking, seemed to be performing less well than students who did not. And not only were they distracted; so were their nearby classmates.
“There’s a halo effect, where people are being distracted by what’s on the screen,” says Littau. “The conspiracy theorist in me assumed they were on Facebook.”
Apparently, some were. Or on Twitter or YouTube or eBay, or all three at the same time. One architecture student turned out to be designing a building while Littau was conducting lectures.
When he started surreptitiously tracking the performance of the laptop users, Littau found out something else about them: they were getting lower grades.
Now, along with a growing number of other US academics – and backed by new neurological research suggesting that technological distractions are taking a significant toll on learning – he has taken the dramatic step of banning laptops from his classes.
“There are some times in life when you have to unplug,” he says. “We fall in love with the idea of technology and don’t always think through what students are learning from it.
Now, this is a really interesting piece of research, but is this not blaming the tool for the student’s behaviour? Should we not be looking to adjust that? If I was a student now, as I am in conferences, I would find that I would be making notes electronically from the lectures, and looking to use the right tools to annotate, etc. Banning me from using a laptop/iPad, etc. would impact upon my learning experience… but then I’m a diligent student!! I’m all for time away from technology… but not convinced this is the way to go about it… we need some more creative thinking!
Noticeably, these tutors say:
All of these experts counsel not switching off the internet altogether, but teaching students how to use it – and, at times, ignore it.
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