FacultyEnlight

CAN ELECTRONIC DEVICES AID HIGHER ED LEARNING?

It’s an ongoing debate among professors, students, and administrators alike: Should electronic devices be allowed in college classrooms? “BYOD" and “BYOT” (Bring Your Own Device and Bring Your Own Technology, respectively) are becoming more and more popular throughout the U.S., from middle school classes through higher education institutions. Surely the technology of tablets, computers, and smartphones hold the power to aid in learning—but do they? There’s no easy answer to this question, but both sides of the argument have made their opinions heard.

Supporters firmly believe that electronic devices in class will change learning from kindergarten all the way up to college, which means that the classroom in 2023 could look a quite different from today’s lecture halls. The Student Mobile Device Survey, which surveyed 2,350 U.S. students from elementary school through college, found that  college students specifically in math and science are much more likely to use [mobile] technology for learning. The interactive learning, ability to answer questions live in class and see instant results, and ways to streamline information in the form of podcasts and videos is enticing to both educators and students. Many say that simply adding technology is not sufficient to address the changing nature of instruction. In addition, classrooms must be made rich with interactive whiteboards, lecture capture systems, and more to encourage the use of interactive content with tablets, notebooks, and smartphones. The opportunities are there for electronic device-inspired learning, but they haven’t yet been truly put in place.

Naysayers to electronic devices in colleges have evidence to back up their arguments. For example, students think they can multitask. But in various experiments, even ones where undergraduates were or were not allowed to have their phones on during a lecture, it was found that those who had no disruptions scored significantly higher on follow-up quizzes. Washington University conducted its own study, finding that while laptops had a positive effect on student attention and learning, when not required for class, students found their laptops to be distracting. Students surveyed reported being unable to concentrate when fellow learners were pretending to take notes, but in reality were actually chatting online, shopping, and watching unrelated videos.

In addition to considering learning and teaching in the bring-your-own debate, institutions must also think about safety, networks, and governance. Are school networks ready for hundreds of students to watch an online video at one time, and can professors be sure students are not getting sidetracked? There is no one-step solution at the moment to both aid in learning and prevent distraction from digital devices. Without a doubt, though, more innovation is necessary to determine not just the best electronic devices to bring to class, but the best ways to use them and create an optimal learning environment for all.