A recent article about wireless devices, distraction, and engagement in the classroom noted that the University of Chicago Law School has eliminated Internet access in most of its classrooms.
On the surface, this move makes sense: most professors know that bored students with laptops tend to drift off onto email and social networking sites. But, when used properly, Internet access can improve engagement, and, perhaps most importantly, keep students on-task and off social networking sites.
Students are not dependent on Wi-Fi for connectivity or distractions
Disabling wireless Internet in the classroom will certainly hinder the ability for many students to access the web. But the number of smartphones and bundled data plans is on the rise. At Ball State, nearly half of students reported owning a smartphone.
This means students can still access Facebook, Twitter, and the web. Additionally, even students without data plans can use their traditional “dumbphones” to text friends. Plainly, students are always connected, with or without campus Wi-Fi.
There was a time when doing newspaper crossword puzzles and whispering to neighbors were the only source of distraction. Even without the Internet, there is still no guarantee students will find a passive lecture more engaging than these unplugged sources of distraction.
The Internet has legitimate educational applications, even during class
At the very least, taking Internet access away from students punishes each of them, even those who were using their connectivity responsibly. Engaged students can find many on-task uses for the Internet during lecture.
The most obvious application for students in class is using one of many online note-taking tools to build review materials during class. In an increasingly online world, some students may opt for Google Docs over its desktop counterparts. Others might use a more specialized tool such as Evernote or Ubernote.
Curious or resourceful students might utilize Google to quickly brush up on or discover more information about topics that pass by quickly during lecture. Such curiosity could range from simple recollection to active learning and exploration.
With so many websites full of games, instant messaging, and other tempting distractions, many see the Internet as an easy scapegoat for student inattentiveness. It is always important, however, to ask whether students would pay attention even without Internet access.
Engaging students and making class more interactive can make students more attentive, regardless of whether there is Internet access in the classroom or not. “Rather than seeing distraction as a challenge,” the Educause article concludes, “educators can see it as an opportunity to reflect upon and change the design of their entire instructional approach.”
Passive lectures result in worse learning outcomes than more interactive pedagogical styles. In those classes, it’s difficult to blame students for wandering off onto distracting websites and sending emails. Between ubiquitous access, legitimate uses, and passive lectures, turning off the Wi-Fi simply won’t solve problems with attentiveness during class.
Sign-up for an upcoming webinar to learn more about how making class more interactive with LectureTools can keep students off of Facebook while improving engagement and attentiveness.