Close your Laptops! Shut off your phones! Eyes up here!

Close your Laptops! Shut off your phones! Eyes up here!

One of the challenges of teaching and technology is the adjustment from the traditional classroom to the wired classroom.

I would like to examine this wired classroom from two perspectives.

First, as the teacher:

I stand in front of the room and there are twenty students out there with laptops open. They stare at their screens. Some look at me. Some are toying with the trackpad. Some are typing. There is no way for me to know whether or not they are actually paying attention to what I am teaching. This is the reality of the modern classroom. If it isn’t laptops, then it’s tablets or smartphones. Students of the 21st century will be distracted, and as a teacher, it is up to me to decide what to do about this. I hear other teachers complain, but the solution is pretty simple. If you don’t want them to be using technology because you are teaching and it is important for them to pay attention, then simply ask them to close the laptops, put the tablets and cell phones down, and focus on you. You can’t force them to pay attention, but you can create an environment that is at least more apt to give them the opportunity to hear what you are saying.

I see this as a “tough love” classroom moment. As a parent, sometimes I have to tell my kids, “No!” And I shouldn’t be afraid to do the same thing in the classroom. “Close your lids, now,” is a simple enough command to make students close the laptops when it is appropriate. Just remember that you do have control over your classroom environment. If a student is staring at his or her lap laughing, it’s up to you to ask if they have a cell phone out. It’s not that hard to notice if you pay attention and stay alert.

As a Student:


I have heard many other teachers complain that teachers are the worst students. We don’t pay attention. We talk and interrupt. We do not behave as we would like our students to behave. Right or wrong, it’s what I hear from my peers. 

I am as guilty of this as anyone. Sitting at a meeting, trying to focus, but my laptop is right there, and I can check my email, Facebook status, and whatever else I would like. Time passes so much more quickly, and I feel like I’m getting work done. So the problem seems to be that I don’t value the discussion or what is being taught. And don’t you think this is also true for the students you teach? Isn’t their Twitter feed more important to them than the contents of a water molecule or the events of the Battle of Gettysburg? 

So if you see the world from a students’ perspective, perhaps you can find ways to make what you are teaching a little more meaningful, and perhaps use technology to engage them rather than distract them. I think the most important thing here is to remember what is is like to sit in a desk for eight hours a day moving from room to room with a brain that is so overloaded and overwhelmed that it’s hard to focus on anything. It’s easy to blame our students for being distracted, but put yourself in that seat. 

The other day, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have to go to a graduate class that I had no interest in. What a nightmare. But I realized that this is probably what our students feel in most of their classes as they go through the grinding day. 

So make your room an oasis. Give them something to care about. Don’t shun the use of technology, but instead figure out ways to allow them to use those 21st century skills to become engaged in the content that you are teaching. 


2 Replies to “Close your Laptops! Shut off your phones! Eyes up here!”

  1. My students have 21st Century interests (and attention spans) but NOT 21st Century skills. I used to worry that my literature first, writing second, …technology fourteenth order of priorities made me deficient in incorporating Internet components of lessons. Now I see that I need to think-aloud the processes I use in “reading” web pages.
    My students are capable of contributing to to increased efficiency in the group web use occurring, but I need to teach observation and variation in approaches to seeking information to even my web-saavy students.
    It is a boon that my district and building still publish zero-tolerance electronics use policies. I feel the world shifting beneath me, however, and I hope to float when the this ship sinks. I don’t look forward to negotiating use of electronics in my classroom, but it probably won’t be any more unpleasant than other negotiations in our shared space.

  2. Examining this issue from various perspectives (how about from the view of the computer?) is an intriguing way to think about classroom practice. Thanks for sharing.

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