At times, technology is essential for the classroom. Other times, it can distract from the material at hand. While it can be exciting to share a new tool that fulfills a specific need, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of introducing specific technologies in the classroom. For example, if the classroom is missing a projector, a Google Slides presentation will not be very effective. Certain online tools require all students to use an electronic device to participate, possibly raising issues of access in the classroom. Finally, some students will be overwhelmed if every course asks them to learn a new tool that only gets used for that semester. 

Chalkboards and Whiteboards
Setting Policies on Student Use of Electronics in the Classroom
Try It First
ETS Classroom Consultations and Support

Chalkboards and Whiteboards

Chalkboards and whiteboards are nearly ubiquitous in our classrooms for the simple reason that they have proven remarkably useful in diverse teaching environments. They remain effective for noting key words, formulas, and simple graphs on the fly. Colored chalk or whiteboard markers can give multiple dimensions to a graphic drawn incrementally or allow different “voices” to be represented visually.

If you change or repurpose a graph you’ve drawn, be sure to completely erase the parts that no longer apply and replace them with clear, new markings. Remember that many of your students will be viewing the graph from 15 to 20 feet away, and your work needs to be clear at that distance.

You may want to consider bringing your own chalk or whiteboard markers and an eraser with you, just in case your classroom does not have a supply.

One final bit of professional etiquette: Remember to erase your work after class ends so the next instructor can start with a fresh board.

Setting Policies on Student Use of Electronics in the Classroom

Many instructors are troubled when students use their laptops, tablets, or smartphones in class in ways that distract other students. As an instructor, you have a major role in maintaining a classroom atmosphere that is conducive to learning, so one responsibility you have is to decide whether you want to set a policy on the use of personal electronic devices.

In determining your classroom policy on laptops and other personal electronic devices, here are some things you might wish to consider:

  1. Does the Instructor of Record have a policy that you should use, or are you responsible for crafting your own policy?
  2. Recent research has found that, contrary to popular opinion, students do not multitask effectively. Instead, they shift their attention quickly among tasks, breaking their attentional focus repeatedly. Learning requires sustained focus. (For some of the research on this, please see the GSI Teaching Conference talk by Silvia Bunge, GSIs and the Science of Learning.)
  3. Research has also found that students who take notes by hand tend to understand the material better and remember it better than students who take more “complete” notes on a keyboard. The reason for this is that when writing by hand, students cannot write everything down and must therefore summarize or sift what they are hearing to write down the most salient points as they go, whereas keyboard users are more likely to passively transcribe every word or copy the content of the instructor’s slides.
  4. Are there classroom-related benefits to allowing students full and complete access to their personal electronic devices? Do these outweigh the level of distraction introduced, both for students using the devices for non-course-related activities and for other students nearby?
  5. How would banning personal electronic devices affect student learning and/or class engagement?
  6. Would your students benefit from occasional course-related use of personal electronic devices? If you want students to use devices in particular in-class activities, and all the students in your section have them, you can state that there will be sessions during the semester for which the devices will be useful or necessary and that you will remind students when such an activity is coming up.

Another option is to ask students what kinds of uses they find beneficial in the classroom and which they find distracting or inappropriate. Bring them in on creating a policy when you establish your community agreements at the beginning of the semester, and distribute that policy to the entire class.

Whatever policy you decide on, be sure to explain it clearly to your students, both in the section syllabus and on the first day of class. For more information about personal electronic devices, please see the resources page at the end of this section of the Teaching Guide.

If you decide not to permit the use of personal electronic devices in your classroom, you should know that there must be an exception for a student who has a Letter of Accommodation from the Disabled Students’ Program stating that the student must be allowed to take notes using a laptop. (If other students ask why this student is allowed to use a laptop, you are not to mention the disability accommodation because that is confidential information. Instead, you can say that the student has permission by prior arrangement and give no further explanation.)

Try It First

Before the semester starts, do a test run of any equipment you plan to use in your class. Try out the presentation or activity in the classroom or lecture hall where the class will meet, with the personal computer or other devices that will be used during the semester.

ETS Classroom Consultations and Support

Staff members with Educational Technology Services (ETS) can help you get started with classroom sound, projection, recording, or other technology. Here are ways you can learn about ETS support for classrooms, look up frequently asked questions, or request assistance: