The Distracted Classroom: Transparency, Autonomy, and Pedagogy

I don’t ban technology in my classroom, even though I know some students can’t manage the potential distraction. (An early assignment in my freshman writing class demonstrates that multitasking is a lie — we can only pay attention to one thing at a time,,and though we can do something routine like fold laundry while also watching TV, we stop watching TV if we lose a sock, and we stop folding when there’s a plot twist. Once when I was at a faculty seminar, and I was inspired by something the presenter said, I opened up my laptop and started taking notes. The presenter froze, then said something like, “Could the typing please stop so that we know everyone is paying attention?” This was before my school started giving out laptops (and iPads) to faculty, so I understand that most of my colleagues at that time would have been taking notes on paper, and it may simply not have occurred to the presenter that I was not only paying attention but inspired. And even before the arrival of laptops, it was fairly common to see colleagues openly marking quizzes during faculty senate meetings.

Distraction wasn’t much of a problem in that case because my colleague had transformed his class into an active laboratory of learning. Students had a complex task to complete together, and limited time in which to do it. They also had a powerful motivation for their work: They were helping people lift themselves out of poverty. | We can’t all start micro-lending programs with our students. But we can take a lesson from my colleague and consider how we can transform the college classroom into a place where students are actively engaged in meaningful work, supporting one another as they tackle tasks that help them acquire the knowledge or develop the skills they need — with or without the help of technology. —Chronicle of Higher Education

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