With the start of the new school year, the debate over whether electronics should be allowed inside the classroom has become a relevant topic of conversation yet again. With current studies still supporting the idea that electronic devices in the classroom are detrimental to students’ ability to learn, professors have taken it upon themselves to ban electronics in class.
Professors have stated different reasons for not allowing electronics in the classroom, like claiming the devices are a distraction or citing studies that say handwritten notes lead to better retention and understanding of learning material. They are all spouting variations of the same fundamental assumption: students are not engaged when they are using electronics in the classroom.
But it’s not the technology itself that causes this lack of engagement from students; it is the way the technology is being utilized ,or rather the lack thereof. As it currently stands, most professors are teaching in a way that makes it easy for students to become distracted.
Long lectures with hundreds of students being talked at is not conducive for hands-on, interactive learning. The problem is that professors are teaching in an archaic way that does not best utilize the new technology that is currently available.
The majority of studies justifying electronic bans have a very narrow view of how electronics can be used in class. Namely, they are seen as an alternative to traditional, handwritten note-taking. They disregard other educational uses for technology, and its potential benefits.
For example, technology can be used as a way to facilitate discussion in class, and can make certain students who are uncomfortable speaking about certain topics more willing to speak up. The anonymity of the device can encourage students that would not otherwise speak to do so.
One professor from Dalhousie University wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education that electronics were a way to enable and ensure every student had an equal opportunity to participate in his human sexuality class, which delves into topics some students may not be comfortable openly speaking about.
It is true that studies have consistently shown handwritten notes lead to better performance on tests. But, testing is not the only way to measure learning, and can be an unfair metric for those who suffer from test anxiety. The result also fails to account for other circumstances that could allow for higher test scores outside of the classroom, such as participating in study groups, online help resources, etc.
College is supposed to be a time where students are able to have agency over their education, which includes how they choose to take notes. Professors may be banning electronics because they have the students’ interests at heart, but the lack of handholding is what makes college a unique experience.
Banning electronics in class disregards the immense benefit that technology can bring to a student’s educational life and professors should think twice before trying to control their students’ learning experiences.