Technology Bans: Some Thoughts

I don’t have a blanket ban on technology in the classroom.

It would not make sense since I have my syllabus and calendar online—and that can be problematic because of access reasons. Also, I’d send a conflicting and confusing message to students with an outright ban. It would be confusing to students to have a ban when I tell students about the things I find online that have a connection to our class. I’d send a contradictory message every time I encourage them to seek out quality voices and resources online.

I also don’t ban technology in the classroom because of disability issues. In my decade of classroom experience I’ve come to realize that many students that should receive accommodations for technology in the classroom don’t follow through on receiving those accommodations. In the waning weeks of the semester I’ve frequently had conversations with struggling students that reveal they should have had some form of accommodation. In many cases those students didn’t know they should receive an accommodation—or they didn’t know the office responsible for providing those accommodations.

I don’t ban technology in my classroom because I don’t want to set policing students as the tone for the classroom. Students are navigating the transition between the rigidness of high school and the freedom of the college classroom. Students might be afraid to speak or to share what they really think. Students might be afraid to have a snack or to go to the bathroom. Policing the use of technology sends the wrong message when I’m trying to inspire students to act and think on their own.

The reasons I don’t ban technology in the classroom jives with why others don’t ban technology in the classroom. However, it takes a lot of work to create a meaningful integration of technology in the classroom. Still, I haven’t had a meaningful approach to technology in the classroom since I taught my Civil War themed composition class at the University of Missouri. Doing technology takes a lot of work. Doing it right takes planning and significant amount of classroom time. I have not had that luxury of time since I was a graduate student with two classes each semester.

Not to toss out everything I’ve written above, but I have to be blunt: maybe the biggest reason I don’t ban technology is for selfish reasons. I don’t have the energy (mentally or emotionally) to monitor students and their use of technology. It takes a lot of energy to address the use of students’ technology use in 3 or 4 sections of students totally 60+ to 80+ students. All of this isn’t to say that I run a class without any rules or structure. I try to direct my energy to meaningful interactions with students. Making sure students are not shopping online doesn’t seem meaningful to me.

In the end, my policy is really about me. It is meant to help me get through my teaching load.

The meaningful integration of technology in the classroom takes hard work. Using technology isn’t only about a policy. It isn’t only about making effective assignments that draw on and use technology. Teaching with technology isn’t only about scaffolding assignments and making technology an important part of learning and instruction in the physical classroom. It is about all of those things. It takes work, effort, planning, and mental energy—prior to and throughout the entire semester.

This semester I’ve found myself asking where the time goes? I go to campus and work diligently in and outside of the classroom. A lot of time is eaten up by bookkeeping, creating handouts, printing materials for the classroom. There is a great deal of non-classroom work just to make the classroom run. This isn’t new, but I’m conscious of it this semester because I’ve committed to keeping track of my time and not working more than 40 hours a week. A successful use of technology in the classroom would create even more work. Inside of the classroom it would mean taking time away from all of the other outcomes I need to meet. Again- these are all problems that could be addressed with successful course designing—thought the assignments and through the implementation of day-to-day activities in the classroom.

Jeffrey McClurken has a recent blog post on the laptop debate. You can read it here. One small part sticks out to me. McClurken writes “Incorporating devices into teaching will require faculty training and support.” I think it is useful to think broadly about what “support” means, especially in an institutional and structural sense. A meaningful approach to technology needs support—support in the form of workload that allows for creativity and the creation of a sound approach to technology.

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