8 different perspectives on laptops and phones in classrooms

Daily Briefing

8 different perspectives on laptops and phones in classrooms

Around 97% of college students admit to using their phones during class, and faculty are divided on how to respond. How should teachers deal with students’ use of laptops and phones during class? Stances on this topic run the gamut from banning all devices to giving students complete independence, Anya Kamenetz writes for NPR.

Kamenetz asked four faculty members, one high school teacher, a psychiatrist, and an app co-founder to explain their stance on devices in the classroom. Here’s what they said.


of college students admit to using their phones during class
of college students admit to using their phones during class

Allia Griffin, lecturer at Santa Clara University: No matter how invested students are in a discussion, a phone beep can distract them, says Griffin. Students also tend to hide behind their devices, using them to avoid participating in class or engaging with their peers, she says.

Katherine Welzenbach, high school chemistry teacher: According to Welzenbach, devices connect teens to “unhealthy” experiences, such as cyberbullying and hate speech. Unlimited access to the internet won’t teach students how to use their devices appropriately, she warns.

Jesse Stommell, director of University of Mary Washington’s Teaching and Learning Technologies: Stommel argues that blanket bans against devices restrict students’ freedom. In certain class scenarios, technology can aid student learning, he says. If students need to look up a confusing term, for example, it makes sense for them to use their laptops, he adds.

Catherine Prendergast, English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Blanket bans on devices make the classroom less inclusive for students with disabilities, Prendergast says. And making students request to use their laptop may unintentionally invade students’ privacy by forcing them to disclose a disability, she adds. 

Victoria Dunckley, psychiatrist: Some young people need to limit their screen time to protect their mental health, says Dunckley, author of Reset Your Child’s Brain.

Derek Bruff, director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching: Faculty must adjust their teaching styles to compete with technological distractions, Bruff says. Traditional lectures, for example, aren’t very engaging and may exacerbate students’ need to check their phones, he argues. Instead, he suggests incorporating devices in a way that requires students to use them productively.

Alanna Harvey, co-founder of Flipd: Fight technology with technology, says Harvey. Professors and students alike will have trouble ignoring devices that are designed to “influence and manipulate our behavior,” she argues. Apps like Flipd that limit the use of a device for a set amount of time can help students and educators tune out distractions, she says.

John Warner, adjunct faculty member at the College of Charleston: In Warner’s classroom, students “self-govern” their use of technology. Students are so busy in his writing class that he doesn’t really worry about potential digital distractions, he says (Kamenetz, NPR, 1/25/2018).

We've talked to hundreds of college students across the country about their technology habits. So what can you learn from your students' technology use? Read our five key take-aways.

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