Flaherty makes several interesting observations from the perspective of the instructor, including:
“Enthusiasm for teaching is hard to sustain when student seldom may eye contact because their heads are bent over their Iphones, believe they can follow the class discussion while updating their Facebook pages, and habitually arrive late, leave early, or don’t show up at all, confident that the day’s material will be posted online and available ‘on demand.’”
“….we can respond by becoming demoralized candidates fro early retirement of by joining the ranks of the perpetually offended. Becoming demoralized, and offended, however never propelled anyone further along the path of creative productivity.”
Strong words--so, what is the solution?
Here are some possibilities:
1) As a wise person once said, “From uncomfortability comes change.” I have had teaching assistants assume responsibility for monitoring these issues from the back of the lecture hall. When students are using their laptops, the TAs appropriately and politely, but directly, ask them to refrain. This is no doubt embarrassing for the students, but perhaps effective.
2) How about engaging in class discussion around the issue? In other words make it a group problem and try to arrive at a consensus about classroom norms. This would be easier, I would think, in a moderately sized class (20-40, let’s say, than in one of 100 or more).
3) Another way to approach this could be to ask teach student who would like to use a digital device in class (a laptop, for example) to meet with the instructor or a teaching assistant to request permission, agree on norms, etc. Time-consuming, but could be enough of a barrier that only students who are serious about using these for enhanced academic performance would go to the trouble.
4) And, of course, just don’t allow digital devices at all. Flaherty even mentions that some of her students have suggested collecting all cell phones at the front of the lecture hall prior to the start of class. Perhaps an honor statement at the beginning of the semester in which students commit to not using devices during class?