Thursday, November 22, 2012

Student Snitching: No Laptops During Class

A few weeks ago, the Toronto Star published an article about Professor Henry Kim at York University's Schulich School of Business. The focus of the article was on Kim's approach to students using laptops while in his classes. To ensure 'proper' use of their laptops, Kim has created two pledges the students must agree to:
1 - No laptop use for anything other than class work.
2 - Spy on their classmates' screens and report truthfully on what they see.

Now, I'm not sure what your first reaction is to reading those two pledges, but mine wasn't positive. (Before I go further, I'd like to point out that the comments posted by readers are quite an interesting read, too.) My first thought was, 'He doesn't get it'. Then I read on to see what his reasoning would be for his classroom rules:
By recruiting this new breed of screen snitches, Kim hopes to make digital distraction so socially awkward that students will close forbidden windows — Facebook, email, Sikh field hockey matches — and plug into class.
So again I react, "Why is Facebook 'forbidden'"? I wonder what the reasons behind students tuning out and watching sports matches are?  Does Prof Kim need to focus more on what he's doing -or not doing- rather than what his students are doing, or should be doing?

Kicking students out of your classroom for looking at something deemed 'improper' on their laptop screen seems to me counter-productive. I consider that Kim could instead be more engaging himself. Maybe he could use some creativity and have the students actively use Facebook, email, Twitter and Pinterest to expand their learning experience with digital tools they've come to love.

Could there be one class online, one class offline? Would it work better if the first 45 minutes of the class occur with laptops closed and students knowing that they can open and use laptops productively for the following 60 minutes of class time? I'm thinking there has to be better solutions than spying, snitching and expulsion from the lecture hall.

Prof Kim rightly asserts:
There’s not an ounce of scientific evidence that students can actually multi-task and learn.
I personally do not feel, however, that the issue here is of multi-tasking and whether it inhibits learning or not.  I believe we cannot fight the digital wave that is crashing down upon us daily nor do it in a way that is not going to turn many away from learning. There are ways to integrate digital technology into classrooms successfully, so let's find those ways, create new ones and keep the learners in their seats -engaged, excited and passionate. If we don't, then more comments like 'steboy' will be made:
Saying we should sit straight and pay attention but not take the care to find out if we're going to want to be there is double talk. This issue seems personal to you, are you a bad teacher? Because I pay attention to the good ones.
Let me know your take on this article and Prof Kim's approach in the comments below.


  1. Jamie, as a lifelong educator and secondary school administrator I couldn't agree with you more. You say it eloquently: Prof. Kim needs to focus on being more engaging with his classroom practice, and more encouraging of creativity in his students. Technology provides tools never before dreamt of and our challenge as educators is to harness these tools to the benefit of the learning of our students. I also like your idea of offline/online time during class. If the students "waste" their classroom online time doing their own thing rather than the assignment, they will still be responsible for the assigned work and have to use their own time afterwards to still be held accountable for the learning expected in the assignment.

    1. Hi Hilary! Thanks for your take on this issue. I would be so pleased if more people like yourself were working in education and forward-thinking with our approaches to providing learning experiences.

      IMHO limitations lead to limited learning opportunities. As someone wrote in my #learnwme chat tonight, instead of saying no to using the tech, say 'this is how we'll use it'...

  2. Great post Jamie...very interesting perspectives. Personally, I think that social media can (depending on situation, person, etc) greatly enhance learning. However, I do know that I, personally, cannot multi-task in certain situations. So I choose not to Tweet, Post, comment through social media in order to focus on the presenter and the content. I think that teachers, trainers, presenters, etc, need to look at the great potential that Social Media has to enhance their teaching objectives. Those that already do are the innovators and forward thinkers that will thrive in the era of Social Learning and will truly engage our generation.

    1. Thanks Tim!
      I have to say I'm striving to be one of those innovators and attempting to take it all forward despite all the push back I continually face.

      And while doing so, I'm keenly aware of what you have pointed out: not everyone is going to embrace this nor be able to 'multi-task' it, but for those who want to, I dislike seeing their desires being crushed so often.

  3. I am an adult learner, currently completing a Masters degree. I am shocked at the number of younger students who use their laptop during class...not to take notes, but to go on FB, Twitter, etc. In one class, the entire back row, just chatted amongst themselves online during the class. (How I do I know this? They laughed about it during break.) I would prefer that laptops NOT be used in class. Unless you have a disability, you can listen and take notes.

  4. Sorry...hit enter too soon. I wanted to add that the noise caused by the pecking of the keyboards, their snickering, etc., was a distraction in the class room. The instructor couldn't hear all of this as he was next to the noisy overhead projector teaching class. However as soon as the issue was mentioned to him by several students (including me), laptops were no longer allowed in the classroom.

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing your experience and perspective here!

      First thing that jumped out at me: 'overhead projector'. Yikes. That kinda makes me wonder how engaging this particular instructor was and what maybe had the students looking for distractions.

      My issue with note-taking on paper, is that it is often in haste -I can't read it after- and it adds more time spent if I want to then transcribe it to a Word doc, etc. I personally like writing directly into Evernote, so that my notes are accessible to me anywhere -laptop or iPhone.

  5. You know, I thought I would really like using a laptop in class, but I found that writing the notes worked better for me as a learner. The particular situation I mentioned wasn't a one time incident. I noticed with the younger students that they used their phones and/or laptop to chat during class. This is how their generation communicates to some extent. In the end, these students will get what they pay for. So if they don't pay attention in class then they won't have the info they need. I realize we can't babysit people, but in the class I had their laptops and subsequent "discussions" during class were a distraction. Plus, almost all the classes now use some form of online discussion. The university I go to uses Blackboard.

    1. As mentioned to you earlier today, I am not a fan of Blackboard and think Facebook would make a more convenient LMS.

      I guess I believe we can't fight the digital wave, especially with the younger learners. If the smartphones are already glued to their hands, I'd rather think of creative, engaging ways for them to use them properly and productively than to ban them.

      I am, however, fully aware of the different approaches to learning people have and am always trying to take that into account, too.

  6. I'm a mature student, having returned to take 101s with 19 year olds (I already have a first degree). What I saw one young woman do left me in mouth-gaping awe: As the prof spoke, and with laser speed, she would "wikipedia" a few of his concepts/terms, robo-scan them with her eyes (to position his lecture in the term/concept's wider context), copy and paste the URL into another document (clearly for future reference). I was in awe. She was deepening her learning to am astounding degree.

    Having said that, yes, many students with laptops watch digital entertainment (TV episodes too) or peruse Facebook in class. Sit in the back, and you can see a sea of FB pages :)

    I had one prof who was very engaging and lively, and he apologized for the overheads, but he simply liked to "draw" concepts and images as he delivered his story-based lectures, and at 60+ years of age he wasn't going to learn how to use and project a tablet. Still one of the best profs I've had...

    Chatting and snickering drives me bonkers. Key tapping doesn't. I hand write. I am a visual thinker and I need to draw pictures and lines and group things and otherwise massacre my "notes".

    1. Kirsten, Interesting anecdote about the live drawing. I just went to hear Dan Roam speak last night (related to his book, Blah Blah Blah) and a big part of his presentation was live drawing. He mentioned how effective it is as it usually keeps the audience's attention, which it did.

      I'm with you, I'm totally fine with key tapping, but the chatting needs to be taken outside.

      Like the young woman you mentioned, I also like to grab extra content while in a session and compile more notes in Evernote. Love that it's possible!

      Thanks for your comment!

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