The acceptability of the use of electronics in the classroom has been an issue debated on the Knox campus as well as in other academic institutions across the country.
Some argue that electronics are helpful for sustainability and convenience, others see the distractions that may come from them as outweighing any potential benefits.
Freshman Ransom Smith worked as a note taker for the Center for Teaching and Learning last term and used his laptop for his job to take notes and send them to other students.
“I don’t have that strong of an opinion towards the use of electronics in general, because I feel that at a university level we should be granted certain privileges and that we should be trusted not to allow distractions to override the attention that we give to our studies,” he said.
Smith said that by using his laptop, he was able to compile and organize notes and then relay them to students that needed them.
Professor of Psychology Frank McAndrew agreed that he generally holds students accountable for remaining engaged in the class and considers it their own fault if they are distracted by technology.
“They are paying the money. If they want to waste class time by doing that, ultimately there’s a price to be paid for doing that – they’re not going to know what’s going on in class, they’re not going to do as well – I guess I have enough things to do than to try to micromanage everybody’s life and save them from themselves,” McAndrew said.
McAndrew does not have a policy about the use of electronics in the classroom and allows students to use their laptops to take notes if they choose to. He said that when he becomes aware that students are becoming distracted by electronics, he will pull them aside and ask them to stop.
Associate Professor of English Chad Simpson frequently has workshops in his classes that are very discussion-based. He said that, generally, he finds it more offensive when students disengage during the presentation of a peer’s work versus when he is lecturing.
“I oddly take it personally when it’s not me, when it’s students’ work that’s being discussed and students disengage,” Simpson said. “Most of the time, I hope students are turning in work that they care deeply about, and if students are looking at their cell phones, that upsets me.”
Freshman Clara Appelbom Jimnez noted that students who become distracted by electronics may be the same students who would disengage with a class without their presence.
“I feel like if a student does that, they will probably be the same student who falls asleep in class, because if you are a good student at this point in your life when you are on the verge of going into real jobs, you should be able to focus even with those kinds of distractions.”
McAndrew said that he feels like policies on electronics are generally dependent on the course and professor. He noted that in a discussion-based class, electronics may be less appropriate than they would be in a lecture setting.
“I would be opposed to a campus wide policy because classes are very different from each other, professors are very different from each other, and I don’t think a one-size-fits-all would work here at all. And even if the policy that they came down with was exactly what I choose to do, I would not like the fact that there was a policy,” he said.
Appelbom Jimnez, who is from Sweden, said that she occasionally uses electronics in class to read articles. However, she said that in her Swedish high school all students were provided with laptops and were expected to use them to take notes. She noted that using technology is more sustainable and may also be relevant to students’ future careers.
“In our future jobs and professions, we are going to be constantly using computers,” Appelbom Jimnez said. “We are not very often going to sit and take notes by hand, and I think it’s worth being an effective typer versus taking notes by hand when you have the opportunity to use the computer.”
Simpson noted that while he feels like there are circumstances when the use of electronics can be beneficial and appropriate in the classroom, he enjoys the lack of distraction and level of human interaction that comes from a classroom setting without them.
“I think that there’s something special about the 70 or 90 minutes that we might get in a classroom together where we can maybe engage with each other rather than these devices. … When I’m in the classroom, I very much want our attention to be on this thing that we’re talking about today, and I think that’s its own special kind of place and I like to treat it that way, and I like for students to treat it that way.”
McAndrew noted that the presence of electronics has not been a very big problem in his classes, but that he does not understand students who choose to engage with electronics over what is happening in class.
“You spend relatively few of your hours each week in class,” McAndrew said. “You’ve got plenty of other hours in the day and night for texting and video game playing, so why would you spend all this money and then spend those few hours doing those things? It just seems counterproductive.”