For the past four years I’ve seen professors with the desire to connect with students, take the same actions and make the same choices when they find themselves competing against technology for the attention of students in the class room, and I’m calling it out as being the wrong choice to make for the long term. In the four years I’ve been taking class with a laptop, the general rule by the many professors I’ve had has now become that laptop use in class is not allowed. It’s a decision that doesn’t really benefit either party and removes the need to discover what the real underlining reasons are in the first place.
University professors are making a good choice to want to connect with students, mentor-ship and guidance from professors has a huge impact on the growth and learning of young adults, but when they try it, they face the realization that instead of being involved, the students are focusing all of their attention on their laptops. In comparison to what students are engaged in, the professors are boring. The reason for that is because most teachers are engaging their students by giving uninspired lectures, with notes on a slide show. And while the professors lecture, students are instead (but not unexpectedly) engaged in an huge amount of activity online involving rich media, social news and social networking channels.
What I see happening is that professors aren’t making the decision to accept the inevitability of technology infiltrating the classroom and finding ways to integrate these mediums into their lessons, but instead what they choose to do is to bring all of the students down to a level of engagement where theirs is the only voice that can be heard. They hope that without any competition, the students attentions will naturally drift to them, but this tactic is doesn’t solve anything in the long run. In my mind it’s the same as being able to sell a poorly made product by simpling eliminating all of the competition.
The correct strategy is to upgrade the professors. Give professors the opportunity to integrate these new social media channels into their lessons so at least we’re communicating at the same level. From there the way to stop laptops from being such distractions is to get professors to be more interesting and add some real value to the educational process. Focusing your complete attention on to your laptop isn’t an inherent fact of owning a laptop, it’s simply because in comparison, the professor is boring. It’s a perfectly logical and expected reaction. But because the problem is so straight forward, so should the solution.
In the last few years, the web has created so many services and repositories for knowledge that it’s become a reliable source of self-educated learning that is on par to what is received in any classroom lecture. It’s the same information that’s being delivered, and while one involves social media, shared, and open knowledge, the teaching that’s being done in the classroom has stayed the same since we were children, back when we didn’t have the means to educate ourselves. As the web lets me teach myself more things, faster, whoever is in the role of an educator needs to be able to provide me with more value than I can get on my own. This is the core problem: The learning enabled by laptops is getting better but the professors aren’t. And that core problem is manifesting itself as an increase in the value being driven from person-to-computer interactions than there is from the person-to-person ones.
Technologies like laptops will replace professors, unless professors and their teaching methods start to adapt and improve in fundamental ways. We’re far away from the time where laptops could replace professors, but I think it is possible, and that’s why this is a situation that is worth more attention than just saying “Put the laptop away”.
Do you think schools are on the right track to integrating new media into the curriculum?
Are you finding that enough professors “get it” when it comes to learning with technology?