On the first day of class I announce that there are to be no computers open during class discussion or lectures. (Of course they are permitted or encouraged during group work or for some online exercises, but that is an entirely different issue.) My pronouncement generally elicits horrified looks from 20-25% of the class and a student or two may choose to drop my course at that point.
Some of the strongest reaction has come from colleagues or profs from other schools. “If I didn’t think I could compete with the internet, I would give up teaching” is a common refrain, often uttered by someone who has trouble communicating one-on-one. As if his fascinating talk on advanced auditing was more interesting than the beer pong pics just posted on FB! Never mind that current research on learning indicates that attention is the most important factor in learning and multitasking of any sort kills attention and learning. Multitasking
In the book, The Shallows, studies are cited showing that hyperlinks to citations in the text of a paper impair learning: imagine having Facebook and YouTube in your control bar while you are trying to take lecture notes! As Aaron Herrington, founder of Modea, said in a recent lecture: “online you are always 1-click or 3 seconds away from cute kittens or porn.”
Even after a keynote speech on Brain research and learning that focused on attention and the risks of multitasking at a recent conference on pedagogy, I get the standard pushback from other faculty when I said that I banned open devices. “If I didn’t think…”
However two young women who had recently graduated from the well-known research university across the river from my school were there. They both said that they wished their professors had banned computers from their large lecture classes because of the third-party effects: even though they kept their own computers shut the noise from the student next to them playing WOW and the embarrassment at the guys in front of them viewing porn affected their concentration.
So profs be honest. Open computers, students communicating on FB and viewing YouTube movies and free porn, may help keep your class happier and more docile – especially in large lecture classes, but it does not aid learning by them or their neighbors!