7 November 2018 • Dave van Ginhoven
Sink Their Battleships by Taking Out their Tech
My recent decision to ban laptops in class may seem old school, but it’s made teaching into a whole new experience that I’d recommend.
I’m not against technology. I’m a fan of blended learning and I don’t make a fuss when I see somebody look at their phone from time to time. After all, I can’t pretend I never did that in a meeting. But there are two types of tech I hate in class: headphones and laptops.
The first one seems obvious, but for some reason it’s not obvious to some students that it’s not cool to sit in class with one headphone in while staring blankly at the teacher in front of you, who, you don’t seem to realise, can SEE you. You might as well come to class with a t-shirt that says: “I don’t care about anything you say, but I’d like credit for showing up and I need free wifi to watch Netflix (if my parents haven’t changed the password).”
Laptops are different. They can be used responsibly, but even then, I don’t like it. Some students don’t know how to take shorthand notes and try to type up every single syllable I say, and some type loud enough to rattle my fillings. It’s distracting and alienating, especially because, even if they’re listening and taking notes, none of them ever looks at me, and let’s face it, I’m a teacher, and that means I got into this business because my self-esteem is so fragile that I need a room full of people to stare at me to feel normal.
That’s just the ‘good’ laptop users. At any given time, a large number of the laptops in any given classroom are being used to shop, book flights, browse social media or for any one of a hundred mysterious purposes that I wouldn’t know about because I can’t see their screens. It feels like playing Battleship with dozens of people at once. Every time you lob a missile of information at them, you cross your fingers and hope it lands somewhere where it might stick.
That, combined with the fact that there is mounting research showing that laptops are not helpful for learning, inspired me to try to sink my students’ battleships by banning laptops in class, except for in specific situations where they can add value.
Guess what? It changed everything. Now I have eye contact with actual human people. Students ask and answer more questions, often without being called on, and instead of hunching over a screen and staring at it like one of those magic posters from the 90s that lets you see a dolphin if you relax your eyes, they’re leaning in to listen and participate. It’s a whole lot more fun for me and when I ask students, they (begrudgingly) admit that it’s more fun for them and helps them get more out of class.
Technology can be a great teaching tool, but it can also be a crutch or even an anchor, heavy enough to sink an educator’s efforts. Sometimes, I think the best way forward to take the occasional step back, once in a while.
But that’s just one guy talking.
Dave van Ginhoven is a senior lecturer at European Studies, which he’s happy to promote to anyone who will listen. Before that he used to be a journalist and a Canadian. He loves to talk, but don’t take him too seriously. He’s only one guy.