On the first day of a face-to-face class, I read my syllabus aloud, which includes my policy regarding technology in the classroom. As if it were some kind of old-fashioned essay, the policy is titled “On Technology,” but it should be titled “Anti-Technology.” “During class time,” the policy begins, “every electronic device must be turned off.” We use the computer and projector at the front of the room, but the technology my students are allowed to use at their desks is pens and paper (fitting with the old-fashioned theme). Quills and inkwells would be more readily acceptable than anything invented in our lifetime.
After I read each section of the syllabus aloud to the class, I usually put it down and talk “off the record” about why the policy is written. After “On Technology,” I say something like this: “If computers are on in the classroom, you’re on Facebook. If your phones are on your desks, you’re texting. I don’t blame you for it; it’s just the way we live now. If technology is at our fingertips, we’re living our new-media lives, and whatever we do together as a class is compromised.”
In the syllabus for my online classes, there is no “On Technology” essay, and of course I have no idea what my students are doing in front of their computer screens. They could be texting, Tweeting, and Facebooking all at once. Perhaps they’re at work, or watching TV, or eating dinner, or all three. Their attention could be divided between all the windows open in their browser—or the windows in their house for that matter, as distraction doesn’t only come in the form of electronics. Perhaps they’re distracted by something terribly old-fashioned, like nesting birds on a budding branch in unseasonably warm sunshine.
Is what we do as a class compromised as a result? No.
Off the record, what do I take from this? It’s the one aspect of online education that is not just different but opposed to face-to-face classes. In the classroom, it’s my policy that their student persona must not allow for electronic distraction. It’s an old-fashioned vision of a classroom, for better or worse. (I should mention that I haven’t changed my “On Technology” policy for face-to-face classes.) In online education, however, if I don’t have a statement against electronic multi-tasking, I implicitly condone it. I wouldn’t say my class is “Pro-Technology” in that it encourages Tweeting, texting, and doing schoolwork all at once, but for the first time in my teaching life, I can say I’m “Non-Anti-Technology.” I must say, it feels like progress.