Weapons Of Mass Distraction

by Joe T

In colleges and schools around the United States computers are slowly being integrated into education. “98 percent of the nation’s schools have Internet access with 12 percent of them using laptops as an integrative tool” (Learning with Technology 2004, p2). This generation is argued as being the most tech-savy, but also the most incompetent; as technology gets smarter we are allowed to get dumber. Laptops in class are very helpful, but they also have so many distractions. While some students are able to avoid using them improperly, others would rather talk on websites or play games than listen to a lecture or study. Many professors and students argue that laptops are heavily needed but current research states that the use of laptops can hinder many different learning types. Also researchers have discovered some learning disabilities stemming from the use of laptops and technology from an early age. This brings up the question, is the distraction of laptops really worth the use of them in class? DSCN1913-300x225.jpg

Learning Styles and Disabilities

According to Dennis Adams, the use of laptops could become so distracting that they hinder us instead of help. In his article Viewpoint, he argues this generation has shown signs of a learning disability called “The Sesame Street Syndrome”. “It teaches children there are right answers to many questions, that facts themselves are valuable, that children’s questions are irrelevant-since grownups are willing to do all the asking and answering-that thinking is irrelevant, because there’s no time for it, that making mistakes is bad, and that failing should be avoided at all costs” (Adams, p25). Most students in this generation have been brought up watching shows like Sesame Street, where they learn that they have to solve a problem or situation in a short amount of time. Studies have shown that students with the disability focus for 10 to 100 second periods while students without the disability keep focused for 3 to 5 minute periods. These shows have shown that they teach kids subconsciously that they must be entertained in order to learn. While this may be not a problem in elementary schools, it becomes a problem in high school and college where students need to focus on the lecture rather than video games or funny online videos. In classes where a majority of students use laptops it was showed that test scores were lower compared to classes where the majority were not allowed to use laptops. Also in the classes where the majority of students used computers, it was shown that most of the students were connected to the internet and they were using up a large amount of bandwidth. This means that students were downloading music or watching youtube rather than doing the material. This was proven in another study done at Winona State College. Psychology professor, Carrie Fried, studied students using laptops in class and the same results were shown.

Many professors recognize this and have put effort into “channeling” the distraction of laptops into a way to help students learn. In a follow up essay to Adams’ Viewpoint, Professor Ray Giguette argues that nobody just passively learns and that everyone has their own learning style. There are four different learning styles, each with their own strengths and weaknesses: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/ writing. “Visual learners have a preference for seeing (think in pictures; visual aids such as overhead slides, diagrams, handouts, etc.). Auditory learners best learn through listening (lectures, discussions, tapes, etc.). Tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer to learn via experience—moving, touching, and doing (active exploration of the world; science projects; experiments, etc.)” (Fleming, 4). Some students do better when they multi task their social life in one window and their science homework in another. “If the Sesame Street Syndrome is indeed real, one might argue that our students’ brains have adapted to the fast-paced information feeds and are able to multitask better than those without similarly trained brains.” (Giguette, p26) In his article, Giguette states that it puts less stress on the students mind when they work on their homework or take notes for a couple of minutes and then switch to something mind numbing like a video game for small set of time. He also argues that if the students learn better in a more integrative atmosphere, why not just make the lecture more participative for students to keep their attention.

Internet Access

Laptops are a gateway to knowledge. Through laptops students are able to access and learn so much more than they would if they read a textbook. However is the access to the World Wide Web the distraction not the laptop? Most students in class are busy using facebook or youtube which causes professors to think so. This thought has driven some professors to even enforce an internet ban in their classrooms. At Bentley College officials set up an internet kill switch. “Attempting to use technology to help find a middle ground, officials at Bentley College set up an on/off switch for internet access in each classroom. Called the “classroom network control system”” (Young). The kill switch has five settings: turn off internet but allow email, turn off email but allow internet, disable internet and email but allow access of campus websites, shut off to all access, or full access. This is all controlled by the professor’s computer at the front of the room. However, the system has its bugs and although one classroom might have the internet turned off, students may be able to pick up an internet signal from another classroom nearby with access still on. Also, although the internet is turned off students may also be able to pick up wireless signals and use the internet on their phones or iPods.

In some cases professors become so infuriated with the distraction of the internet that they ban laptops entirely from their classrooms. The laptop is a valuable and necessary asset in today’s college classroom. Although students are using the internet the class may need a word processor program or a slide show running in order to get information across. But student distraction isn’t always the reason for a laptop ban but professor distraction. June Entman, a professor at the University of Memphis, banned laptops not only because students were distracted by them, but because she couldn’t make eye contact with her students. As miniscule as this sounds, she argued that it made a big difference. “The wall of vertical screens keeps me from seeing many of your faces, even those of some students who are only neighbors of a laptop. The wall hampers the flow of discussion between me and the class and among the students” (Mangan, cit. 2). However, internet kill switches and the banning of laptops aren’t the only things that professors do to restrict the banning of the internet. In some cases professors use humiliation in order to control student use of the internet. Some professors use programs or set up blocks in which when students use instant messaging or email in class, the professor gets the message instead. “In some classrooms, a student who is sending a snide email message to a classmate might find, to his horror, that the professor has captured the contents of the message and projected it on a screen for the entire class to read.” (Mangan). Although professors have many options to control internet control, sometimes the only option is a ban of laptops which in the long run causes some students to struggle. laptop-ban.jpg

“Channeling” the Distraction

iclicker.jpg With the distraction of the internet and laptops there is always the option for teachers to ban laptops or simply turn of the internet. However, the mixing of technology and education is inevitable. As mankind becomes more technology advanced, education will need to use technology in order to discover new things and keep teaching current. This mindset has caused teachers to use programs like iClicker to encourage student participation and integrate technology into their lectures. With iClicker, students use an infrared transmitter to send votes to a computer, where they are counted and displayed to the entire class on a projection screen. In classes where this is used student grades have been higher and students have been shown to walk away knowing the material better. Also the integration of using participatory programs has caused students to want to be in groups to discuss the material in order to do better. Success with participatory programs has caused teachers in all grade levels to integrate participatory lectures and homework into their teaching.

Although integrative technology is being used in 12 percent of colleges, some of the technology that is being used is being passed onto high schools. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, the physics department created an interactive simulation program also known as PhET. PhET provides many interactive, research-based simulations of the physical sciences. Ranging from chemistry to physics, PhET allows students to see what they learn in class in relation to real life. “PhET enables students to make connections between real-life phenomena and the underlying science, deepening their understanding and appreciation of the physical world” (Wieman). This program is free and is open to anyone and is even being used in grade schools to help younger students understand higher level sciences.

After a study at Winona State College, it was proven that in some classes laptops are a necessity, however they need to be controlled due to students using them for the wrong purposes. After using technology such as the iClicker, educators began to pool together to create a version that students could use on their laptops. They created a program that all students would have to download. The program would be started up at the beginning of class and wouldn’t be able to be exited or minimized until the students completed the assignment. Assignments would consist of quizzes, homework, and occasionally conceptual tests that the students would be able to answer in class and then be emailed to the professor’s computer to be shown to the class, much like the iClicker technology. However, the program had its faults and was trashed to due too many costs for updates and patches. This inspiration has caused some software companies to try and develop a more stable program in which to aid students and professors in channeling the distraction of computers in the classroom.

As technologies get better and as future generations get more adapted to it, technology will be integrated into education. Laptops are a crucial element in today’s schools. Laptops in the classroom help students access information, direct their own learning, help collaborate work, and engage in participation. However, while the addition of computers to education is a very valuable asset to learning it must be respected. If students are allowed to take notes on their private computers there is always the possibility for them to get distracted and pull up a social network or video chat with their friends, distracting them and the people around them. However, if the integration of computers and technology in education is well thought and used in a more participatory and fun manner, the application of computers could help the student learning process greatly.

Works Cited

Adams, Dennis. "Wireless Laptops in the Classroom (and the Sesame Street Syndrome)." Communications of the ACM 49.9 (2006): 25. Web.

Broadwell, Katie. TommieMedia - Contagious Distractions: Classrooms Should Ban Laptops. Digital image. TommieMedia - Campus, Local and World News Reported Daily by University of St. Thomas Students. Web. 02 Dec. 2010. <http://www.tommiemedia.com/opinions/contagious-distractions-classrooms-should-ban-laptops/>.

Classroom Support - University of California, Irvine. Digital image. Classroom Technology Support - University of California, Irvine. Web. 02 Dec. 2010. <http://www.classroom.uci.edu/ars/>.

Fried, C. "In-class Laptop Use and Its Effects on Student Learning." Computers & Education 50.3 (2008): 906-14. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Mangan, Katherine S. "Cutting the Power." EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page. 7 Sept. 2001. Web. 02 Dec. 2010. <http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?hid=11&sid=0f47a2a9-c072-4df2-b3bb-5abafe84f1e7@sessionmgr10&vid=5&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ==#db=aph&AN=5154323>.

NYC Coffee Shops: No More Laptops Please. Digital image. Brewed Coffee. Web. 02 Dec. 2010. <http://www.brewed-coffee.com/community/nyc-coffee-shops-no-more-laptops-please/>.

Young, Jefferey R. "The Fight for Classroom Attention: Professor vs. Laptop." Chronicle of Higher Education 52.39 (2006): A27-29. Academic Search Premier. Web.