Students and Technology in the Classroom

I love my Blackberry – it’s my little connection to the larger world that can go anywhere with me. I also love my laptop, as it holds all of my writing and thoughts (of course, I back up to a server). Despite this love fest with technology, I know that there are times when I need to move away from these devices and truly engage with others.

On occasion, I teach a course called History Matters for a group of higher education executives. My goals for the class include a robust discussion of historical themes and ideas. Because I want students to thoroughly engage the material and each other in the classroom, I have a rule – no laptops, iPads, phones, etc. When students were told my rule in advance of the class, some of them were not happy.

Most students assume that my reasons for this rule include negative experiences in the past with students misusing technology. There’s a bit of truth to that. I’ve rarely had students abuse the use of technology in my classes; however, I have been e-mailed and Facebooked by students while they were in other professors’ classrooms.

Some students assume that I am anti-technology – “The historian doesn’t like technology.” There’s no truth in that at all. As I noted above, I love technology and try to keep up with it so I can relate to my students.

The real reason why I ask students to leave technology at the door is that I think there are very few places in which we can have deep intellectual conversations and truly engage complex ideas. Interruptions by technology often break concentration and allow for too much dependence on outside sources for ideas. I want students to dig deep within themselves for inspiration and ideas. I want them to push each other to think differently and to make connections between the course material and the class discussion.

I’ve been teaching my history class in this way for many years and the evaluations reflect student satisfaction with the environment that I create. Students realize that with intense conversation and challenge, they learn at a deeper level – a level that helps them retain the course material beyond the classroom.

I am not saying that I won’t ever change my mind about technology use in my history class, but until I hear a really good reason for the change, I’m sticking to my plan. A few hours of technology-free dialogue is just too sweet to give up.

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