Wireless in the classroom
by Rhett McDaniel, Educational Technologist, Vanderbilt Center for Teaching
With the lowering cost of portable computing devices and the widespread availability of wireless connection to the Internet, laptops are more frequently finding their way into college classrooms.
In the past, instructors could easily witness students passing notes, reading a magazine, or simply day dreaming during class. Now, laptops and other portable computing devices can create a barrier between the instructor and student, which can shield the student’s activity behind a veil of technology. Is the student taking careful notes? Searching web sites relevant to the class discussion? Accessing the University’s course management system? It can be difficult for an instructor to distinguish these activities from virtual chatting with friends, updating a Facebook status, or shopping online.
Setting clear guidelines upfront by including a statement in your syllabus about the use of wireless devices is the first step in managing wireless in the classroom. Here are a few questions to guide you when thinking about what role wireless technologies will play in your classroom.
Giving thoughtful consideration to these questions will also help you communicate to students why a policy is in place, potentially resulting in better acceptance of the guidelines.
Once you have determined the extent to which you want to use wireless technology for class, you will want to develop a supporting policy statement for your syllabus. This could take many forms, and depending on the nature of your course, might include some or all of the following topic areas:
Seeing how others have written guidelines and polices around the topic of wireless in the classroom may help as you construct your own policy. The following examples illustrate how other instructors and institutions have developed their statements.
In addition to a written policy, there are also techniques you can incorporate into your teaching that will help you manage students’ use of wireless in the classroom. One simple technique is to have a screen-up and screen-down time in order to focus student attention. This strategy, as well as others can be found by exploring the links below.
Wireless in the Classroom: Advice for Faculty is a rescource developed by the University of Wisconsin–Madison that provides a list of best practices aimed at reducing classroom distractions.
The Learning Teaching Center at the University of Dayton has also developed Best Practices for an e-Classroom for faculty considering the use of laptops in class.
Leveraging wireless technology in your class is another way to help manage their use during class. Associate Professor of Psychology at Ball State University, Lisa Huffman, tells how she uses wireless technology in the classroom.
The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group has developed a collection of instructional strateges for teaching with technology based on Chickering and Gamson's “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” This rich resource is contains an assortment of practical ideas you can incorporate into your teaching.
While students may be comfortable using laptops for personal use and for homework, many have not discovered how to apply the power of wireless technology to help them learn. Therefore, in addition to the use policy, it may be helpful to also give students suggestions for best practices when using technology in class.
The information technology office at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has compiled a practical list of student guidelines with regard to wireless in the classroom. It provides a list of behaviors aimed at helping students stay on task, as well as strategies to minimize distracting others.
In spring 2007, Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, worked with his students create a video for YouTube that features the results of a student survey. The video illustrates, to the dismay of many, the multiple factors that distract student attention and how they can lead to disengagement during class.
The decision to allow or restrict use of wireless technologies in class can be a complex one. Policies will likely differ among your colleagues and may even differ for yourself among the courses you teach. Don’t hesitate to contact the CFT if you are part of the Vanderbilt instructional community and would like to talk further with one of our consultants about this topic.