August 13, 2014

Setting a technology policy for your classroom? Ask students for input

Posted by Laura Guertin

For those of us heading back to the classroom this fall, we are thinking about what to do in our classes, and how to keep our students engaged during the 50 minutes we have them three times week – and by “engaged,” I mean keeping students connected with us and not to their electronic devices.  Some of us struggle with how to handle the ever-expanding collection of mobile devices that are appearing in our classrooms and that stay in the hands of our students during class time.  We ask students to keep their cell phones off and to power down their iPads, yet with a handful of individuals, it is a constant struggle and competition for attention.

What’s an instructor to do?  Do we “fight the fight” throughout the semester and constantly remind students to put their devices away, or do we welcome the devices and find ways to keep students on task?  Programs such as Poll Everywhere and Nearpod can have students using their phones and laptops for academic purposes, but are these enough to make sure the devices become tools and not just a distraction for all students?  Dan Rockmore (Dartmouth College) makes a case for banning laptops in the classroom and has an “electronic etiquette policy” in his syllabus, but Robert Talbert (Grand Valley State University) presents three concerns with having a ban.

Why not ask the students what they want, and what they feel is an appropriate technology policy for the classroom?

In recent years, more and more papers are coming out in journals that document best practices and research results of the impact of technology use in the classroom.  For example, Jack Tessier (SUNY-Delhi) surveyed his students in an environmental studies course about their perspectives for using a cell phone as an academic tool during class time.  His students (n=25) reported that cell phones “helped their learning, encouraged their enjoyment of the class, improved their success in the course, marginally increased their attendance, and were not an important distraction” (Tessier, 2013).  Yet Sana et al. (2013) document that learners who multitasked on laptops during class, as well as those students that could view a laptop screen, had reduced comprehension of lecture material – in other words, those on the computers and those seated around them score lower on classroom assessments.

One option is to let students have a say in the use of technology in the classroom – but present students with examples of what pedagogical researchers are learning.  Initially, students may express a desire to use technology like Tessier’s students, but once they see the evidence prepared by Sana et al., their views towards allowing technology in the classroom may change.

I’m still struggling on whether to design my own technology policy for my classes, to be firm on Day 1 and say “this is the way it is going to be,” or to allow students to have a voice… and the clock keeps on ticking to finish that syllabus…



Additional sources for exploration

Rockmore, D. (2014, June 6). The case for banning laptops in the classroom. The New Yorker. Accessible at:

Sana, F., T. Weston, & N.J. Cepeda (2013). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education, 62: 24-31.  (Full article available online)

Talbert, R. (2014, June 13). Three issues with the case for banning laptops. The Chronicle blog network – Casting Out Nines. Accessible at:

Tessier, J. (2013). Student impressions of academic cell phone use in the classroom. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(1): 25-29.

Wood, E., L. Zivcakova, P. Gentile, K. Archer, D. De Pasquale, & A. Nosko (2012). Examining the impact of off-task multi-tasking with technology on real-time classroom learning. Computers & Education, 58(1): 365-374.  (Abstract available)