TSI, Inc. Galion, OH

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The students of today have access to incredible technology that didn't exist when a lot of teachers and administrators were in school just 15 - 20 years ago.

Keeping students engaged can be a challenge with all the stimulus and tech access at-the-ready. However, technology can be a great teaching and leaning tool when the technology is easy and reliably available.

Some of the common concerns are:

  • Wireless devices in the classroom threaten to distract student attention but also offer opportunities for student engagement.
  • Faculty use different methods to reduce in-class distractions, up to mandating no use of wireless devices during class sessions.
  • To increase student engagement using wireless devices, faculty employ creative options for making wireless devices part of instruction, from cell phones as clickers to laptops for on-the-fly web research.

The path of technology integration in education is lined with disruptions on one side and opportunities on the other.

Schools spend countless dollars to bring technology into teaching, all with good intentions. But a lot of times they ed up with unwanted side effects such as distraction, unreliable technology, and disruption in the classroom.

Some schools are hesitant to go wireless and the challenges loom large in classrooms with wireless connections, especially when universities give students ubiquitous Internet access and sometimes even the devices for such access.

Mobile phones, for instance, are considered distracting because of problems with ringing during class, cheating, or multitasking, and the camera that comes with many phones can raise privacy issues as well.

Similar complaints might also be made about laptops in the classroom. Laptops occasionally make sounds if students have forgotten to turn off the volume, and the laptop screens can become walls between students and professors.

Students performing multiple tasks (instant messaging, Facebook updating, and so forth) are also blamed for distracting other students from concentrating on the lectures or classroom discussions.

Technology-enabled distraction is a problem that no educator can afford to ignore as ubiquitous computing and mobile learning environments become commonplace.

But, of course - your technology and wireless network has to be fast, secure, and reliable. Without that - the main distraction is going to be a frustrating network experience.

So how do schools deal with minimizing the negative effects of going wirless?

  • They can be restrictive. No wireless at all.
  • They can ban laptop use
  • They can ban cell phone use

The problem with restrictive methods is that, for example, a computer or cell phone is in reality no more distracting than a window that a student can stare out of and daydream or become disengaged. But it doesn't make sense to seal off all the windows in the school.

Students these days are used to using technology all the time everyday, and then walking into school they are asked to turn those digital devices off.

It creates a "teachers vs technology" type of environment.

When more and more choice is available for students and their families who pay tuition - offering more instead of less seems to be a prudent course of action.

It is not likely that computers, digital devices and the like are going to go away - but on the contrary their prevalence will increase. And more and more teachers rely on some sort of technology not only in their personal lives but in the classroom.

I could indeed be argued that alternative distractions would arise if technology was removed.

Schools are quickly trending toward BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and need to be in compliance with new Common Core initiatives in which all student's experiences (for example - online testing) are equal.

This is where partnering with a Technology Consultant and Provider such as TSI, Inc is crucial.

Some of the strategies and solutions employed by schools successful with technology include:


Use Filtering Applications

Applications can help when faculty want students to bring their laptops to the classroom to take online exams.

The flip side of using such programs is that an unstable wireless network might disrupt an exam or another online activity. So your school district and staff expect reliable wireless service and on-site support from the technology team until they feel comfortable using the program.

Enable Switching Networks On and Off

Technology-enhanced classrooms can be managed collaboratively between faculty and the technology team. While professors focus on teaching and learning activities, technology teams can work on solutions for smart control of technology access in the classroom.

Contract with Students

Faculty members may allow laptops or other wireless devices in the classroom, but set proper boundaries to tell students what is acceptable and what is not.

If your cellular phone is heard by the class, you are responsible for completing one of two options: 1. Before the end of the class period you will sing a verse and chorus of any song of your choice or, 2. You will lead the next class period through a 10-minute discussion on a topic to be determined by the end of the class. (To the extent that there are multiple individuals in violation, duets will be accepted.)

This rather light-hearted approach addresses a problem that could create tension between students and professors. Instead of mandating the way students learn, professors can actually contract with students to elicit their self-regulation, Contracting with students implies that faculty trust individual students to make the right choices. Having such learning contracts is an important part of individualized, self-directed learning that works well with students.

Educate the Community

Educators can use mass training to educate students about the social norms of technology use in the school community. Students do behave differently. Some use their computers or mobile devices productively in the classroom, taking responsibility for their own learning and showing consideration for others who might be affected by their behavior. Some rude technology-related behaviors can be prevented or minimized if students have learned about community norms through workshops, written guidance, or orientation sessions.


"Re-mix" Lectures

Another method for engaging students is to deconstruct a traditional, 50-minute lecture by breaking it up, re-mixing it, and redistributing it in a variety of formats and settings. For instance, instructors can offer some quizzes online through a course management system. They can describe their course objectives and assignments online. They can present some generic lectures as digital videos, which are gaining traction among the educational technology community with the emergence of several types of educational outlets. These videos can expose students to content before or after class, thereby freeing class time for active learning activities.

Involve Learners

In traditional lecture-dominated teaching, students, who should be the subjects of learning, become the objects of teaching or the passive recipients of information. This kind of teaching is very vulnerable to distraction. When students feel compelled to sit through a 50-minute lecture, an occasional "distraction" might even provide a healthy balance — unless it is abused.

Putting these devices in the hands of students can begin to increase active learning. When students are viewed as active participants in learning, distraction becomes much less an issue. With active learning, students develop their own cognitive or operative skills. Use of wireless laptops might even enhance "student-centered, hands-on, and exploratory learning" as well as "meaningful student-to-student and student-to-instructor interactions.

Once we start to think beyond the traditional concept of learning as classroom lectures, many new opportunities for learning unfold.

Extended Uses

With extended uses, students employ their devices productively beyond their classrooms or even their campuses. In these other contexts of learning, the issue of distraction further transforms into a tool for engagement.

Turn Wireless Access Devices into "Study Buddies"

Other than "toys" for students to play with, mobile devices can become students' study buddies in or outside of class. Why shouldn't educators compete for that learning space in a student's hand? Instead of banning mobile devices, or just tolerating them, educators can use such devices as tools to engage students' minds.

A Futurelab report summarized six types of learning supported by mobile technologies

  • Behaviorist learning, in which mobile devices are used to create stimulus-response connections such as content delivery through mobile devices
  • Constructivist learning, in which mobile devices support student construction of knowledge
  • Situated learning, in which mobile devices are used in authentic context and culture
  • Collaborative learning, in which students learn with their mobile devices through social interactions
  • Informal and lifelong learning, which happens outside of a formal education context
  • Teaching and learning support, in which mobile devices and their associated resources are used not for actual learning but for support of human performances

If institutions broaden the scope and definition of "educational value," unique uses for mobile phones, laptops, or other wireless access devices can positively affect student learning and student life in general.

But, of course - your technology and wireless network has to be fast, secure, and reliable. Without that - the main distraction is going to be a frustrating network experience.