Arts, Culture & Humanities
 

Read full discussion >

Multitasking makes a classroom

Rosemary Joyce

With each technology shift comes, sooner or later, the flood of critical commentary: computers were going to destroy our students’ ability to think; the internet was going to make plagiarism unavoidable; and now, smart phones and computers in the classroom mean our students will be distracted by online chat, email, and– the new threat– Facebook.

But somehow, our students continue to learn, despite each of these technological developments. Two things strike me in the latest expressions of concern about technology violating the sanctity of the classroom: the distrust of the motivations of students to learn; and a fundamental misconception about what a classroom should be for learning to take place.

In my current classroom, 190 students fill a lecture hall, and I certainly cannot see the screens of the laptops open in the top row, from which (I know) the view down to where I stand is vertiginously steep. Indeed, I would be surprised if most of the students with laptops open do not have some communication technology running in the background as they type notes to themselves, navigate to the course website to download readings, or use a browser to look up a word, a name, the date of an historical event I just mentioned or once– memorably– YouTube video of the standup routine of my youngest brother, the professional comedian in Chicago.

But they are typing those notes as I talk, which is not the majority of the time in the classroom. And they interrupt me when I do talk, to ask questions, clarify points, or contribute something they just looked up on Wikipedia (despite my constantly warning that the “information” there is as reliable as what any random classmate might tell you. Which may why I can’t convince them not to use it, since at Berkeley, a random classmate is likely to have something pretty helpful to say on any topic.)

Fundamentally, though, I just trust them. They are, after all, adults– and over a third of them come to Berkeley as transfer students, most in their junior year, many as older re-entry students. They have complicated lives, often trying to take one more class than I would have in their place, while working a job within or outside the university, and in many cases, carrying out the role of parents to small children or caretakers for siblings or parents with health challenges. I make it clear to them what they have to do in my course to succeed; and I assume that they have to learn by trial and error how to give each activity enough attention not to fail.

Which does not mean that I have done nothing to address the burgeoning technology assault. But telling them to turn off phones or computers is simply pointless, making me a police officer, not a teacher. And I remember the first 300 student lecture course I taught at Harvard, before laptops and cell phones became pervasive, when students, secure in the delusion that they were invisible, read the newspaper as I tried to lecture or even, on one memorable occasion, used the opportunity to entwine in a passionate embrace that literally knocked all the ideas I was trying to convey out of my head. So the challenge is not new, even if the form of alternative activity may be so.

What worked all those years ago, pre-laptop, pre-iPhone, works today. Then, I stopped using the podium, inconveniently located at the back corner of the stage, and came up to the edge, sat down, and started calling students up from their comfortable seats to join me and respond to questions about the course material. Even the very first time I did this, the atmosphere changed: the virtual wall between me and them melted. They might be next!

And so over the years they have been. One at a time, without advance warning, or in groups scheduled in advance and given time to practice their presentations, or organizing during the first 20 minutes of class before facing the jury of their peers: if the classroom is not a theater, and students are not the audience, I find they connect with me.

Maybe some of them, at any moment, are distracted by a hello from an FB Friend. Thank god for podcasting: when I do lecture, now, I can expect them to review the recorded soundtrack and resolve their urgent questions. Some will undoubtedly retain less than others: that has always happened.

But the technology is not to blame if I lose their interest. I am: because if the classroom is what it should be, it is a space for multitasking, where all of us have an active role all the time, using our minds to generate new knowledge, using the new tools at our disposal to pull things together, an active space where surfing the internet is not the response of a restless mind bored by being assigned to simply sit still and listen.

Bookmark and Share
Comments to "Multitasking makes a classroom":
    • Ted

      Technology is neither good nor bad, but as you say needs to be adapted to. But I don’t think there is enough discussion about how technology shapes our thinking. In the early PC and Mac days a study was done of elementary school children who grew up learning write on a PC and children who learned how to write on a mac. The result of the study was that the children who learned on a mac were writing differently than the children who learned on a PC. In fact if you think of your own life you can probably think of ways that technology has shaped some of the ways you think. I think there should be a greater awareness of how technology shapes how we think. I think on the whole that technology will allow students to learn more they will just be learning in a slightly different way.

      [Report abuse]

    • Cachemire

      I think that the social network have a lot of bad effect in the personal development, but I think that the technology have a good impact in knowledge because it’s a step to the sharing of information

      [Report abuse]

    • Make Your Own Beats Miami

      Hello, I recently completed my MBA and would like to add a little to this discussion.

      Open computers work well in a lecture when there is a PowerPoint that the students can follow on their computers. Having the computer open allows the student to take notes relating to what is being discussed. For the students who do take notes on the computer it provides the added benefit that later when it is time to study, the notes can be easily read and updated into the form of a study guide. If the professor reads their PowerPoint line by line, the students won’t take notes. This is why it is important for the professor to discuss information not contained in the PowerPoint, thus requiring note taking. I do agree that students will browse Facebook. This is a downside. But it is not the responsibility of professors to act as baby sitters and force them to take notes.

      Overall I found it easier to learn when I was able to take notes on the computer and believe it should be allowed. Thanks!

      [Report abuse]

    • Hello, I recently completed my MBA and would like to add a little to this discussion.

      Open computers work well in a lecture when there is a PowerPoint that the students can follow on their computers. Having the computer open allows the student to take notes relating to what is being discussed. For the students who do take notes on the computer it provides the added benefit that later when it is time to study, the notes can be easily read and updated into the form of a study guide. If the professor reads their PowerPoint line by line, the students won’t take notes. This is why it is important for the professor to discuss information not contained in the PowerPoint, thus requiring note taking. I do agree that students will browse Facebook. This is a downside. But it is not the responsibility of professors to act as baby sitters and force them to take notes.

      Overall I found it easier to learn when I was able to take notes on the computer and believe it should be allowed. Thanks!

      [Report abuse]

    • Dan

      I hope that educators come up with more innovative ways to use the social web to help students learn. All the internet is now interactivity. So we as educators and teachers of children meaning all adults need to find ways to use these things like facebook and such to enhance the education process

      [Report abuse]

    • I love it that you don’t try to police things and realize that while things are always changing in many ways they are still the same. At this level of education, if someone is not willing to learn, they won’t (at any level, really), no matter what is or is not available to distract them.

      [Report abuse]

    • There is always a good & bad side of everything. But it is up to us which way we use it; for instance nuclear power can be used by third world countries to produce electricity on the other hand nuclear power can be used to kill hundreds of thousands of people just to satisfy our greed, preserve our pride or show our supremacy on others. So I think it is up to the students which way they use technology. Are they gonna use it to learn or use it just to have some temporary fun,which will give them nothing ultimately.

      [Report abuse]

    • It is too easy to blame technology for the distraction of students. In my day it was people throwing paper planes, talking, reading magazines. The distractions will always be there, but will evolve over time. Students are not just there to study, but evolve as human beings and interact with their peers.

      [Report abuse]

    • I totally agree, the benefits of technology far outweigh the perceived negatives. After all a minimised facebook window is still better than the old time comic book inside of a textbook. We also must remember this isn’t juniour high here, your students are there to learn

      [Report abuse]

    • Being flexible in an educational setting, while directing the flow of attention and technology to maximize the assimilation of information is an example for educators to follow. It is so much easier, and ultimately less progressive, to insist on status quo. Focusing more on the opportunities of technology and the responsibility to use that technology for best results benefits everyone.

      I applaud you.

      Dene’ Ballantine, PhD(c)

      [Report abuse]

Leave a comment

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


2 × = 4

Read full discussion >