Like many of my colleagues I have a puzzle to solve. A number of my students (but fewer than 50% this semester) bring laptops to class. Some are large old-fashioned machines, others are tiny netbooks and MacBook Airs. I don’t think anyone has a tablet at the moment, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Since some of them may read this blog, I’ll leave it to them to comment, either publicly or off-line.
Now I’m a prototypical ‘sage on the stage’(1), so all I see are the backs of these machines. The other students can see the screens, to some extent (depends on where they’re sitting). So far, my response to this situation is to ignore it, mostly. Occasionally I’ll ask someone to look something up. Somewhat more frequently, someone will take it upon themselves to look something up, and tell the class. This seems to me to be a good thing.
On the other hand, they may be updating their Facebook status. Or tweeting plans for a date after class (I teach 6-9 PM). Or tweeting about the speech error I just made. Or worse (I know I have characteristic behaviors—tics if you like—that my students are aware of). So what should I do?
And furthermore, if they’re tweeting, and friending (or updating…) are they listening to me? Are they engaging with me or with the material?
Do I care? After all, if not, they’re the ones who will suffer. Or so I could tell myself.
Recently there have been two articles talking about this–a research paper by someone at U of M and a long article, followed by some longer interactive discussion, on the online Chronicle. Take a look at them, and let me know what you think–you can use the ‘Comments’ section.
(1) That’s the derogatory label used by advocates of various new, interactive styles of ‘live’ teaching to describe the traditional lecture style that I and many of my colleagues use—I stand at the front of the class, pace up and down, write stuff on a (physical) blackboard and occasionally display web pages, YouTube videos and such.
PS. Thanks to Joe Sawasky for the pointer to the articles.