Technology in the Classroom

I don’t let students use their cell phones or laptops in class. My main reason has been the distraction it provides for other students, particularly when someone is using their laptop for non-academic purposes (where “non-academic” is a euphemism for sports and nekked wimmin). Turns out there’s data that supports my intuition. The following quotes come from emails sent by two of my faculty colleagues.

In a controlled study (Hembrooke & Gay 2003), students with open laptops remembered less lecture content than those with closed laptops. In another study (Fried 2008), the more students used their laptops, the lower their class performance, the less attention they paid to lectures, the less clear lectures seemed to them, and the less they felt they understood the course material.

Fried, C. B. (2008). In-class laptop use and its effects on student learning. Computers & Education, 50, 906-914.
Hembrooke, H. & Gay, G. (2003). The laptop and the lecture: The effects of multitasking in learning environments. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 15, 1-19.


A study by Duncan, Hoekstra, and Wilcox (2012) demonstrated that students who reported regular cell phone use in class showed an average negative grade difference of 0.36 ± 0.08 on a four-point scale. Students also underestimated the number of times they accessed their phones while in class. While students reported an average access rate of three times per class period, observation data showed the rate was closer to seven times per period. An interesting finding is that other students are distracted when students text in class (Tindell and Bohlander, 2012). So while a student may claim hes only hurting himself when texting, studies show that others are affected also.

Sydney Fulbright, PhD, “Cell Phones in the Classroom: What’s Your Policy?” Faculty Focus, April 15, 2013

About James Hanley

James Hanley is former Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and currently an independent scholar.
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6 Responses to Technology in the Classroom

  1. lancifer666 says:

    I am ruthless about lap top and cell phone use. I announce it each of the first three classes and it is in the class materials for the course (as it is for every “gateway” course at I.U.P.U.I.)

    Open one once and I’ll ask you, politely, to put it away. If I catch you doing it twice I will do my best to embarrass you, and not give a damn about hurting your little feelings, by saying “Hey, I told you once to put that away. Do you have hearing or memory issues? No? Then don’t interrupt class again by using it.”

    Do it three times and I’ll ask you to leave the class.

    Do it four times and I’ll escort you out and tell you to come back when you have a letter signed by your academic adviser stating that you understand the university’s policy on in-class electronics and apologizing to me and the class for your actions.

  2. Being of the generation that had to fight to be allowed to use slide rules (pocket calculators were then in the future) I’m inclined to agree.
    On the other hand, my primary notetaking tool today is a Galaxy Tab with stylus input, that I routinely use to take notes on electronic copies of documents during meetings. Should I return to school (the current retirement plan) I can so see that as superior to jotting down notes on bits of dead trees and hoping I don’t lose them.
    With printed textbooks staring at the end of their long reign, will classroom notes be the last hurrah of academic paper consumption?

  3. lancifer666 says:

    If I was sure that people were actually using their electronic tablets to only take notes I would have no objection to them. The reality is that people that have tablets are using them for many other things even if they claim to just be taking notes.

    That’s why the university does not allow them, nor do I.

  4. That’s the problem, isn’t it? And it’s not going to get any easier.

  5. James Hanley says:

    I sat in on an adjunct’s class once so I could evaluate him. 5 students had laptops. 2 girls in the back were working on projects for their business class, 1 was looking at baseball scores, one had a screensaver with a nekkid chick on it, and one was taking notes.

  6. Some of my professors had the (I suppose irritating to others) habit of tossing pop quizzes at us with no warning. Were I faced with a wall of laptops, I’d be strongly tempted to do likewise.
    Personally, I always enjoyed that kind of thing as a student — but I never made any pretence of being normal.

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