There is no doubt that a room full of students on their phones instead of engaged with a PowerPoint presentation is frustrating to professors. However, presentations that only regurgitate information and could easily be made accessible online are monotonous for students.
There is recent extensive research on the pros and cons of technology in education. A study from 2011 conducted by the University of Michigan surveyed students who use LectureTools, “a collection of web-based tools that students can use on their laptops for a variety of in-class activities.” Fifty-three percent of these students responded that their laptops helped them learn more, compared to 40 percent of students who did not use LectureTools. The same study also reported that 40 percent of students using LectureTools and 46 percent of other students felt distracted when students sitting near them used laptops.
At Emory, I’d like to call out our own faculty who refuse to take advantage of the helpful aspects of screens, the internet and our interconnected digital world. Professors must adapt to innovation in order for students to have every opportunity to succeed.
Professors should not be allowed to prohibit devices in the classroom. My professor of a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) course told students on the first day of class that laptops and phones are not allowed due to department policy. Without much explanation, she mentioned the Office of Accessibility Services for accomodations, but did not address why the policy is in place. Banning technology from the classroom inconveniences many people who benefit from being able to type notes in favor of satisfying a professor’s paranoia. Popular software applications like Microsoft Word and OneNote, as well as more specialized tools for specific tasks, help students keep their notes organized. Additionally, many people my age type faster than they write, and I know students who retain and digest information better by typing than if they used pen and paper. Instead of conforming to blanket statements that claim how people succeed best, professors must consider that students learn in different ways.
To little surprise, the department at Emory most open to classroom technology has, in my experience, been the Computer Science (CS) Department. As a student studying computer science, my bias must be considered in making this judgement. But while I often criticize my own department, I give the faculty credit for incorporating technology into the classroom. On the first day of my CS class this semester, my professor shared her perspective with us. She acknowledged research that supports both theories that technology hurts and helps students learn. It is our choice, she said, not only to decide how to take notes, but to choose how to use technology in general. She candidly said that if students want to play games or check their email, that’s fine, but they should sit in back as not to distract the people behind them. While I usually take notes with paper and pen, I appreciate my professor’s initiation to address the varied needs of students and for treating each of us with respect
Another choice professors make regarding technology usage is whether or not to put notes online. My WGSS professor does not post notes online while my CS professor does. Other than to quell professors’ insecurities that students won’t attend class if they can read the lesson from the comfort of their bed, there is no reason why this shouldn’t be done. However, my CS class is always mostly present, probably because my professor talks about more than what is on the slides. Again, posting notes online, something that takes very little time to do, benefits students more than it harms attendance and engagement. If I am sick or out of town, or simply want to focus on what my professor is saying in class instead of anxiously making sure I write down every specific detail, I depend on an online record of what has been covered.
Taking and storing notes are just two of many ways technology helps students. Recording lectures and posting PowerPoints can help students study for exams and re-process information. In addition to benefiting students’ learning, online books and articles save trees and money for financially or environmentally conscious students.
Despite the complaints of some professors regarding the use of technology in the classroom, most professors use technology through automated plagiarism checks, automated grading and discussion boards. Cherry-picking what kind of technology to use and which to ignore concerns me, not as a CS major, but as someone who promotes progress and innovation, because technology is power. Access to our interconnected world — this combination of knowledge and communication — determines success.
In my experience, there is a trend of undeserved mistrust aimed at younger adults. It feels like when I’m seen with my phone, the worst is assumed, and it’s not only in the classroom. I’ve been told at professional development events to put my phone away and that it’s rude to take notes on a device. That might be true, but I accept the consequences of my actions because I am an adult. A student’s choice to pursue social media in class could negatively affect their learning in the classroom. But as someone who grew up with this “new” technology, I’m tired of professors dwelling on a normalized development. Banning all usage of phones and computers is unwarranted.
Leaving decisions regarding technology in the classroom to departments and individual professors creates unequal opportunities for students and professors. To even the playing field, the University should standardize requirements and expectations of students and professors.
It’s 2019, and a fixed mindset toward technology in academia is inexcusable. I am disappointed in professors who deprive younger adults of tools needed for success. I challenge everyone to embrace the technological revolution, take a chance on trusting others with technology and ask if their environment supports diverse styles of learning. Maybe professors can reach out to the CS Department. Together, we can empower students and faculty of Emory University with the exciting inventions of today and tomorrow.
Naomi Keusch Baker (20C) is from New York City.