OK; I Guess It’s Time to Listen to What the Data Says…

I’m not a fan of outright bans or ultimatums in the classroom.”

That’s a line from a post I wrote last November in which I shared some research regarding student use of electronic devices in the classroom. Here’s what that research found:

“…a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms...”

The author of the New York Times article from which the above quote is taken, Susan Dynarski, a college professor, also provided evidence that the learning of students seated near laptop users was also negatively affected.

As a result of such findings, Dynarski has banned all electronics from her classroom.

It was at that point in my November blog post that I tried to present an argument against such a ban, starting off my argument with the quote at the top of this post.

Well it looks like it’s time for me to go with the flow, and listen to what the data is saying.

A new study in Educational Psychology just came out which found that students perform less well in end-of-term exams if they are allowed access to an electronic device, such as a phone or tablet, for non-academic purposes in lectures. In addition, Students who don’t use such devices themselves but attend lectures where their use is permitted also do worse, suggesting that phone/tablet use damages the group learning environment.

The study found that having a device didn’t lower students’ scores in comprehension tests within lectures, but it did lower scores in the end-of-term exam by at least 5%, or half a grade. This finding shows for the first time that the main effect of divided attention in the classroom is on long-term retention, with fewer targets of a study task later remembered.

The study’s lead author, Professor Arnold Glass, suggests that “to help manage the use of devices in the classroom, teachers should explain to students the damaging effect of distractions on retention—not only for themselves, but for the whole class.”

I should also point out that this is one of the pieces of advice I was given when I had two of my faculty colleagues visit my class this summer to provide feedback on my teaching.

So it seems as if the evidence is pretty clear; electronic devices hurt, rather than help, student performance when used in the classroom.

As a result, on August 27, 2018, the first day of the semester, I plan to lay down the law – no laptops, tablets, or phones will be permitted during class. I think I will also take Professor Glass’s advice and share the research with my students as to why the ban is being put in place.

Of course, it will be up to me to enforce such a ban, since I am sure there will be students tempted to glance at their phone during class. Not being the confrontational type, that will be a challenge for me. But if I remind myself of what the research says, I can tell the offending student(s) that it’s not me that’s enforcing the ban, but the data.

I’ll plan to follow up with a post at the end of the semester to share how the ban went. Wish me luck…

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