Between cell phones, laptop computers, and e-book readers, there are plenty of technology distractions in the classroom (both in high school and college). Are these distractions good or bad? Should there be rules to limit their use?
Why Technology Distractions in the Classroom Are a Good Thing
For several reasons, I do not believe there should be rules against technology distractions in the classroom:
1. Preparation for the workplace. Educators at all levels tell us that they want to prepare students for the real world. In the real world, there are technology distractions. In my professional life, I have repeatedly seen other professionals monkeying around with their smart phones and other devices in business meetings. To the extent that becoming distracted by technology is a bad thing, students should be given an opportunity to learn for themselves the perils; if they do not learn this for themselves in school, they will learn it (at greater potential cost) in real-world settings.
2. Valuable skills. I would be much more worried about the future prospects of a student who does not know how to use a smartphone than I would about a student who endlessly plays with a smartphone in class. Familiarity with technology is a much more essential, and marketable, skill than the ability to solve geometry problems. If you ban technology distractions from the classroom, you are impairing the students’ education.
3. Whose education is this, anyway? Teachers are understandably annoyed when they see students browsing the web instead of listening to their lectures. But who has the greatest stake in the classroom experience? The students are the customers here. Even in public education, students are supposedly the ones receiving the benefit of the classroom experience. The purpose of that experience is not to stroke teachers’ egos, but rather to educate students. If students seem distracted in class (by technology or whatever else), teachers should take the initiative to make class more engaging.
It is easy and intuitive to argue that technology distractions should be removed from the classroom. But for all the reasons noted above, separating students from their gadgets is a mistake. Let me add one more reason: Any effort to separate students from their technology is futile. Students generally understand the latest technology better than teachers do, and they can (and will) find ways to bring that technology into the classroom. Teachers should embrace this new technology, instead of making futile attempts to ban it.