Why Clay Shirky Banned Laptops, Tablets and Phones from His Classroom

    by Clay Shirky
    September 15, 2014
    Photo by nerdmeister® on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    I teach theory and practice of social media at NYU, and am an advocate and activist for the free culture movement, so I’m a pretty unlikely candidate for Internet censor, but I have just asked the students in my fall seminar to refrain from using laptops, tablets and phones in class.

    I came late and reluctantly to this decision — I have been teaching classes about the Internet since 1998, and I’ve generally had a laissez-faire attitude toward technology use in the classroom. This was partly because the subject of my classes made technology use feel organic, and when device use went well, it was great. Then there was the competitive aspect — it’s my job to be more interesting than the possible distractions, so a ban felt like cheating. And finally, there’s not wanting to infantilize my students, who are adults, even if young ones — time management is their job, not mine.

    "Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class — it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them."

    Despite these rationales, the practical effects of my decision to allow technology use in class grew worse over time. The level of distraction in my classes seemed to grow, even though it was the same professor and largely the same set of topics, taught to a group of students selected using roughly the same criteria every year. The change seemed to correlate more with the rising ubiquity and utility of the devices themselves, rather than any change in me, the students or the rest of the classroom encounter.


    Over the years, I’ve noticed that when I do have a specific reason to ask everyone to set aside their devices (“lids down,” in the parlance of my department), it’s as if someone has let fresh air into the room. The conversation brightens, and more recently, there is a sense of relief from many of the students. Multi-tasking is cognitively exhausting — when we do it by choice, being asked to stop can come as a welcome change.

    So this year, I moved from recommending setting aside laptops and phones to requiring it, adding this to the class rules: “Stay focused. (No devices in class, unless the assignment requires it).” Here’s why I finally switched from “allowed unless by request” to “banned unless required.”

    The Problem with Multi-Tasking

    We’ve known for some time that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work, and is especially punishing of the kind of cognitive work we ask of college students.

    Photo by  Jenn Vargas on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    Photo by Jenn Vargas on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    This effect takes place over more than one time frame — even when multi-tasking doesn’t significantly degrade immediate performance, it can have negative long-term effects on “declarative memory,” the kind of focused recall that lets people characterize and use what they learned from earlier studying. (Multi-tasking thus makes the famous “learned it the day before the test, forgot it the day after” effect even more pernicious.)

    People often start multi-tasking because they believe it will help them get more done. Those gains never materialize; instead, efficiency is degraded. However, it provides emotional gratification as a side-effect. (Multi-tasking moves the pleasure of procrastination inside the period of work.) This side-effect is enough to keep people committed to multi-tasking despite worsening the very thing they set out to improve.

    On top of this, multi-tasking doesn’t even exercise task-switching as a skill. A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy,” as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.) Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.

    This is all just the research on multi-tasking as a stable mental phenomenon. Laptops, tablets and phones — the devices on which the struggle between focus and distraction is played out daily — are making the problem progressively worse. Any designer of software as a service has an incentive to be as ingratiating as they can be, in order to compete with other such services. “Look what a good job I’m doing! Look how much value I’m delivering!”

    Social Media Piles On

    This problem is especially acute with social media, because on top of the general incentive for any service to be verbose about its value, social information is immediately and emotionally engaging. Both the form and the content of a Facebook update are almost irresistibly distracting, especially compared with the hard slog of coursework. (“Your former lover tagged a photo you are in” vs. “The Crimean War was the first conflict significantly affected by use of the telegraph.” Spot the difference?)

    Worse, the designers of operating systems have every incentive to be arms dealers to the social media firms. Beeps and pings and pop-ups and icons, contemporary interfaces provide an extraordinary array of attention-getting devices, emphasis on “getting.” Humans are incapable of ignoring surprising new information in our visual field, an effect that is strongest when the visual cue is slightly above and beside the area we’re focusing on. (Does that sound like the upper-right corner of a screen near you?)

    The form and content of a Facebook update may be almost irresistible, but when combined with a visual alert in your immediate peripheral vision, it is — really, actually, biologically — impossible to resist. Our visual and emotional systems are faster and more powerful than our intellect; we are given to automatic responses when either system receives stimulus, much less both. Asking a student to stay focused while she has alerts on is like asking a chess player to concentrate while rapping their knuckles with a ruler at unpredictable intervals.

    Photo by  Wirawat Lian-udom on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    Photo by Wirawat Lian-udom on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    The Elephant and the Rider

    Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider is useful here. In Haidt’s telling, the mind is like an elephant (the emotions) with a rider (the intellect) on top. The rider can see and plan ahead, but the elephant is far more powerful. Sometimes the rider and the elephant work together (the ideal in classroom settings), but if they conflict, the elephant usually wins.

    After reading Haidt, I’ve stopped thinking of students as people who simply make choices about whether to pay attention, and started thinking of them as people trying to pay attention but having to compete with various influences, the largest of which is their own propensity towards involuntary and emotional reaction. (This is even harder for young people, the elephant so strong, the rider still a novice.)

    Regarding teaching as a shared struggle changes the nature of the classroom. It’s not me demanding that they focus — it’s me and them working together to help defend their precious focus against outside distractions. I have a classroom full of riders and elephants, but I’m trying to teach the riders.

    And while I do, who is whispering to the elephants? Facebook, Wechat, Twitter, Instagram, Weibo, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, the list goes on, abetted by the designers of the Mac, iOS, Windows and Android. In the classroom, it’s me against a brilliant and well-funded army (including, sharper than a serpent’s tooth, many of my former students). These designers and engineers have every incentive to capture as much of my students’ attention as they possibly can, without regard for any commitment those students may have made to me or to themselves about keeping on task.

    It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Even a passing familiarity with the literature on programming, a famously arduous cognitive task, will acquaint you with stories of people falling into code-flow so deep they lose track of time, forgetting to eat or sleep. Computers are not inherent sources of distraction — they can in fact be powerful engines of focus — but latter-day versions have been designed to be, because attention is the substance which makes the whole consumer Internet go.

    The fact that hardware and software is being professionally designed to distract was the first thing that made me willing to require rather than merely suggest that students not use devices in class. There are some counter-moves in the industry right now — software that takes over your screen to hide distractions, software that prevents you from logging into certain sites or using the Internet at all, phones with Do Not Disturb options — but at the moment these are rear-guard actions. The industry has committed itself to an arms race for my students’ attention, and if it’s me against Facebook and Apple, I lose.

    The ‘Second-Hand Smoke’ Problem

    The final realization — the one that firmly tipped me over into the “no devices in class” camp — was this: screens generate distraction in a manner akin to second-hand smoke. A paper with the blunt title Laptop Multitasking Hinders Classroom Learning for Both Users and Nearby Peers says it all:

    “We found that participants who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to those who did not multitask, and participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to those who were not. The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.”

    I have known, for years, that the basic research on multi-tasking was adding up, and that for anyone trying to do hard thinking (our spécialité de la maison, here at college), device use in class tends to be a net negative. Even with that consensus, however, it was still possible to imagine that the best way to handle the question was to tell the students about the research, and let them make up their own minds.

    The “Nearby Peers” effect, though, shreds that rationale. There is no laissez-faire attitude to take when the degradation of focus is social. Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class — it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.

    Groups also have a rider-and-elephant problem, best described by Wilfred Bion in an oddly written but influential book, Experiences in Groups. In it, Bion, who practiced group therapy, observed how his patients would unconsciously coordinate their actions to defeat the purpose of therapy. In discussing the ramifications of this, Bion observed that effective groups often develop elaborate structures, designed to keep their sophisticated goals from being derailed by more primal group activities like gossiping about members and vilifying non-members.

    The structure of a classroom, and especially a seminar room, exhibits the same tension. All present have an incentive for the class to be as engaging as possible; even though engagement often means waiting to speak while listening to other people wrestle with half-formed thoughts, that’s the process by which people get good at managing the clash of ideas. Against that long-term value, however, each member has an incentive to opt out, even if only momentarily. The smallest loss of focus can snowball, the impulse to check WeChat quickly and then put the phone away leading to just one message that needs a reply right now, and then, wait, what happened last night??? (To the people who say “Students have always passed notes in class,” I reply that old-model notes didn’t contain video and couldn’t arrive from anywhere in the world at 10 megabits a second.)

    I have the good fortune to teach in cities richly provisioned with opportunities for distraction. Were I a 19-year-old planning an ideal day in Shanghai, I would not put “Listen to an old guy talk for an hour” at the top of my list. (Vanity prevents me from guessing where it would go.) And yet I can teach the students things they are interested in knowing, and despite all the literature on joyful learning, from Marie Montessori on down, some parts of making your brain do new things are just hard.

    Indeed, college contains daily exercises in delayed gratification. “Discuss early modern European print culture” will never beat “sing karaoke with friends” in a straight fight, but in the long run, having a passable Rhianna impression will be a less useful than understanding how media revolutions unfold.

    Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion, they create a sense of permission that opting out is OK and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers. In an environment like this, students need support for the better angels of their nature (or at least the more intellectual angels), and they need defenses against the powerful short-term incentives to put off complex, frustrating tasks. That support and those defenses don’t just happen, and they are not limited to the individual’s choices. They are provided by social structure, and that structure is disproportionately provided by the professor, especially during the first weeks of class.

    The Collaborative Process of Focus

    This is, for me, the biggest change — not a switch in rules, but a switch in how I see my role. Professors are at least as bad at estimating how interesting we are as the students are at estimating their ability to focus. Against oppositional models of teaching and learning, both negative — “Concentrate, or lose out!” — and positive — “Let me attract your attention!” — I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process. It’s me and them working to create a classroom where the students who want to focus have the best shot at it, in a world increasingly hostile to that goal.

    Some of the students will still opt out, of course, which remains their prerogative and rightly so, but if I want to help the ones who do want to pay attention, I’ve decided it’s time to admit that I’ve brought whiteboard markers to a gun fight and act accordingly.

    This post originally appeared on Medium.

    Clay Shirky holds a joint appointment at NYU, as an Associate Arts Professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) and as an Associate Professor in the Journalism Department. He is also a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and was the Edward R. Murrow Visiting Lecturer at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy in 2010.

    Tagged: attention clay shirky distractions focus laptops multi-tasking technology technology in class
    • Great arguments Clay! You didn’t even go into mnemonic device territory to discuss memory retention of a collaborative discussion vs. handwritten notes vs. typing – I know there are strong aruments in that arena which support your point about multitaking distractions.

    • Teacher

      I’m sure that your students’ parents, who are paying about $60,000 a year for their children’s NYU education, will be relieved to know that the real adult in the room has finally asked the children to put down their toys and pay attention to what their parents have worked for years to provide.

      • No Name

        A teacher who demands its students to “pay attention” is not an engaging teacher.

        • Kiwiddn Ddn

          it means there is no engaging teacher on planet Earth.

          • No Name

            Not sure what you mean. There are some great teachers, but some need to get a new profession. I taught High School for over 24 years. Lots of experience.

    • PlayEqualsLearning

      I was one of Shirky’s [graduate] students last semester and my parents are not paying for my education…generalizations don’t add to this conversation nor does this idea that playing with toys cannot be a learning experience.

    • While I cannot disagree with the argument being made, I do need to ask, ‘at what cost?’ Surely there are data that defeat the idea that multi-tasking is effective – so don’t multi-task. And surely there are data to demonstrate notifications fragment attention – so turn them off. And upon making these two choices you mitigate the third argument about second-hand smoke. Ergo, no technology in class..

      But what of the opposite logic…again with well-supported data? What if the process of learning was far more complex than we in education acknowledge. For instance you argue that time management is “…their job, not mine.” – why do you say this? From what evidence base do you frame this statement?

      Surely you would agree that it is the educator’s obligation to structure the learning experience and that this includes the content being consumed, the environment in which it is consumed, AND the process by which it is consumed. But you argue time management is their job? Are study habits their job? Is note-taking their job?

      If you argue that it is, then can you point me to evidence demonstrating that these actions of learning are well-evolved, or that learners have competency in these domains? In other words, are they adequately equipped to do their job?

      My argument is not with your data against technology in the classroom, my argument is that you have seemingly failed to consider the reality that the process of learning itself may be significantly improved by well-leveraged technology within a well-structured learning environment – and that by only exploring one side of the story you drew the only conclusion the data lead you to…

      • Wittgensteiner

        Well, this begs a question: what exactly are these students doing on their devices? I’m sorry to tell you that the majority of them (I am a college instructor facing the same issue) are on social media, chatting with significant others, or surfing the net. Others actually watch videos of anime or similar ilk. Only a tiny fraction are doing anything remotely related to class. If you tell me that the entertainment dabblers are somehow able to be directed into “well-leveraged technology”, then you have never taught average (any age) students. Yours would have to be MIT engineers. Even there, I wonder….

    • JakiChan

      ISIS has banned math. Yay progress.

    • JakiChan

      I would also say that if the professor is any good then I should need NOTHING in his class. I shouldn’t need to take notes. If I need to take notes then he has done his job poorly. So also ban pencil and paper. He shall provide all materials necessary to learn. That should be what $60k a year gets you.

      • TelmeaStory

        Learning by osmosis then?

      • this guy who has some brain

        Pencils and paper don’t continuously bombard you with photos of your friends on jetskis or at the club or what they ate for breakfast.

        Also, you’re right about not needing notes. In a perfect world situation, every student would pay 100% attention all of the time to remember and understand the content being provided.

        Once you understand something – And I mean truly understand it to the point of having an instinctive feel for it – Then minor side details can be looked up later in your own time, IE: No need for notes.

    • TelmeaStory

      So, not good for a “stand and deliver” “everyone facing the front” lecture style of teaching.

    • No Name

      Another educator who wants to preserve Higher Education’s inability teach beyond lectures. So sad that people are spending thousands of dollars on an education and the “so called” teacher/professor can’t teach. The truth is, its not the technology getting into the way, it’s the teaching techniques. A person can speak around 125-150 words a minute, but the mind can process around 800 wpm. With that said, it’s not the technology, it’s multi-tasking, its dated teaching techniques. Stop boring your students, engage them.

      • jschoop

        because creating an engaged classroom relies strictly on the professor? I think you missed the point!

    • reginanjus

      It is even worse when the students attend high school! Everything on a computer screen or thier phone is way more interesting than any teacher or assignments! If they can find a game or something else they really prefer it! Just moving the mouse or cursor is much more fun! Actually do assignments on a computer? No INTEREST! If they can find or do something that is against school policy! Look , I can beat the schools Internet policy! Boy do I have lots of them!

    • this guy who has some brain

      This article is gold. Every academic professional needs to read this article.

    • lazyeyed2

      For some students, laptops and tablets are necessary adaptive technology. Does the ban apply to them?

    • Mark

      Is it possible that the emotions that are exacerbated when, as a teacher, you sense less and less people paying attention to you have driven this and then you have simply added to this the loose and biased data surrounding ‘multi-tasking’ to support your feelings? To be clear, it is your classroom, so ban or don’t ban. Just be careful when trying to use logic to support emotional decisions.

    • Labteacher

      When I graduated from college with my degree to teach in the secondary classroom, my first job was teaching middle school computer classes. I definitely was not prepared by my professors to teach in this format. Everything I learned had taught me to teach kids facing front and only distracted by materials I would bring to them. In a computer lab, kids had a monitor between me and their faces. It took me three years to figure out that I was competing with the computer and losing every time. I had to completely restructure my lessons, my role as teacher, assessment, everything in the room to help my kids learn.

      Now as I teach and support teachers using BYOD, it is the same concept. The device is going to win every time for your student’s attention. So you have to completely renovate how you teach. You cannot teach the same way you learned in school. You must combine both the student with their technology now. Sure, you can request times to have no-technology for basic instruction. I would have my students turn their monitors off but I kept the “me” time very limited.

      It is interesting how advertising has changed over the years. It used to be about product, but now it is about experience. Advertising isn’t about the actual product itself (that’s the placement of it in movies and shows), the commercials are about the user’s experience with their product. The social media is about the user’s experience with a product. Don’t just buy a Coke, share it with a friend and then share about the experience on social media.

      It is strange how in education, we are still about the product not the experience.

    • closetothetruth

      after a decade of selling thousands of education “reformers” and administrators on the necessity of replacing teachers with digital devices, Mr Shirky admits “oops, I was wrong!” Now he’ll discover that his value as a pundit has nothing to do with his accuracy or insight, but only in whether he is spouting the industry line; his work will continue to be cited by those same “reformers” and administrators as they line their pockets by shifting massive amounts of funding from teachers to devices. well played, sir.

    • Tricia Ransom

      Interesting. You begin with the statement, “I teach theory and practice of social media at NYU”. Notice the word theory. Towards the end you mention “hard thinking (our spécialité de la maison, here at college)”.

      I argue that in your area of expertise, Social Media, hard thinking is what happens when people are on their devices.

      Yes, people are more distracted today than ever. You mention that the only variable that’s changed in your classroom is technology.
      I challenge you to rethink what a classroom is. Is it a place where the same material is taught in the same way as it was 50 years ago? Or is it an opportunity to use technology to grab people’s attention and immerse them in a subject?

      Rather than lecturing about the dates in the Crimean war, why not have people re-create what led up to it? Assign them to teams, each a country, with certain resources and agendas. It’s like a living version of Risk.

      To me, teaching is about engaging. Yes, technology is designed to be engaging. So let’s design teaching to be engaging. Use blips, sounds, instant notifications, badges, personalization, colors, music, sounds in your teaching.

      Teaching is also about motivating. I can push information out to people all day long whether or not they have a laptop, tablet, phone, google-glass, google watch, pen and paper, or chalkboard slates. But why are they there? Is it to fulfill a requirement to get their degree? Is it to learn more about the subject? Is it because their friends are taking the class?
      If someone isn’t internally motivated, it doesn’t matter what I do. They’ll tune out. I was in undergrad during the 80s. I used my time in lectures to do other homework, write letters, day dream, scribble, learning to write left-handed, and people watching out the window.

      Distraction is not a new problem. What is new is how we must adapt to overcome the sheer amount of distraction. And external forces can’t do that. People must be intrinsically and internally motivated to ignore the distraction and focus on something else.

      Yes, people need to learn to pay attention at times and they need to learn how to focus regardless of distractions.

      In the real world, when they get their first jobs, they’ll be distracted. Trust me. I’m writing this from my open cube at work listening to four conversations and seeing multiple computer screens.

      Help your students prepare for the reality they’ll face. Help your students learn to be a good co-worker. Help your students learn to manage their time. Help your students to feel a personal connection with your subject.

      PS: by the way, my job is to teach white-collar workers in corporate America. I have a Master’s Degree in Training & Development/Human Performance Improvement (while I was working full-time, and with my own money – no loans). This is my passion. I dream about my work. I love what I do. And I love it even more when I break through the distractions and get the “ohhh…I get it!”.

      • Prof Imperfectus

        You are assuming that contemporary educators do NOT do all of the things you suggest. Believe me, we do. In fact, we are constantly assessing what works and what doesn’t, how to adapt, but there are boundaries. You made me laugh with your suggestion of recreating the conditions that led up to the Crimean war – I assume you mean role playing. That’s a standard teaching technique, but if you want to recreate a major international conflict, the resources might be limited. That’s a boundary we have to work within. One of the problems of the environment that Clay refers to it, from my perspective as both a university lecturer/educator who also does industry training is that the engagement with social media actually hampers all teaching. Example, I arrive at a lecture and my students are waiting to go in, and rather than talk to each other, as they might have done once, they are ALL looking down at their phones. Consequently, any activities that require interaction are often hampered by the absence of social engagement between students OUTSIDE of the classroom, especially as many students do not live on campus. They are, in effect, working with a bunch of strangers, and unlike in a workplace we only have them for 3-4 hours a week. I look forward to my industry training sessions because there is NO comparison with teaching college students – even when I use the same material! The wins I have with college students are so much more rewarding because they are are much harder to gain. The relevance of teaching people in industry is that life experience and their greater discipline as a result of working produces a very different classroom environment and student. Either that or you are the world’s greatest living teacher.

        • Tricia Ransom

          Good point about people needing engagement outside the classroom to be engaged inside it. I just don’t get banning tech in a Social Media class.

          I’m not the world’s greatest living teacher…I’ll leave that honor to my mother.

    • Mitch Burdorf

      I locv the way Clay compares multitaskers to alcoholics. While extreme, he really knows how to get a point across. As one of these kids I have firsthand evidence that what he is saying is true, and I can’t help but think this comment would have better structure if I wasn’t multitasking while writing it :D.

    • Dillon Rose

      I believe that computers can be very beneficial to learning. I personally take more organized and thorough notes on my device. Even though some focus is lost, the world is changing and we need to adapt to the new ways of thinking and processing in society.

    • JUAN

      This comment is written by a group of three English Language Teaching (ELT) students from Universidad Industrial de Santander in Colombia:

      As ELT students who are being prepared to be future teachers and who are currently taking classes related to the use of technology in education as well, we consider that even though it is important the implementation of the New Information and Communication Technologies (NICTs) in the classroom, it is also necessary to regulate the utilization of these kinds of devices by our students. They ought to be the mean to reach the purpose we desire to achieve rather than the focus of the class itself. Similarly, we also believe that nowadays both the content and the structure of hardware and software are quite irresistible and distractive for our students, especially compared with the daily coursework when it does not
      entice the students’ attention very well.

      On the other hand, we contemplate that by banning all types of technological devices in the classroom, teachers and professors are not to find the ultimate perfect solution to the issue of distraction from part of their students. There exist people whose attention can be taken away by whatever mean is at hand; consequently, technology is not the only negative source of interference in the learning environment. Additionally,
      educators should find attractive manners to engage their pupils to participate actively in class in all the possible ways in order to keep them focused. As a conclusion, it is utterly necessary to find the correct method of mixing the use of technology with the content of the class as a way to ensure our students’ learning process. Through this, we are fairly certain that learners are going to be interested in the activities developed and teachers and professors will be integrating updated materials and insights in their classes, making of them the ideal learning environment for everyone.

    • Andrés Romero

      I as a student of a Technology and Education course from an ELT program in Colombia realized that this article is revealing in the way that I didn’t know that multi-tasking has a negative connotation on the learning process.

      Teacher must have students attracted to the class instead of banning such devices by providing or making the topics interesting to them. Besides, it’s not only worthy to propose some rules to moderate the class environment, but also be committed with class to demonstrate students its importance and value for the professional growth. Thus,
      teachers should avoid the “laissez-faire” attitude but we also need to promote students’ autonomy.

      It is not a matter of forbidding students from social media interaction through technology while class-time but making them aware of its implications and consequences when using them. In this sense, it could be possible to inform students about the side-effects of multi-tasking in order to make students foster an autonomous attitude in class.

    • Rosalba Quintero

      The idea of banning technological devices in the classroom could be considered as useful when it is required as Prof. Shirky says. Nevertheless, teachers should foster a culture in which these types of devices and social media can be used by posting pieces of homework, books, articles, academic videos, etc that engage students and motivate them to use these tools for more academic purpose.

      Otherwise, we agreed with the author on the fact that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work. People in general, tend to see multi-tasking as a positive skill, because it provides an emotional gratification as a side effect, instead of this, efficiency is degraded.

      As teachers we have the power to decide what to do in the classes, however we have to take into account the students’ necessities. Currently, technology is everywhere, we need to try to use it as much as possible, incorporating it into different contexts and methodologies. For instance, if we use Facebook in favor of the learning process, we can take a great advantage of it because it is the one on the top of students’ interests, teachers can motivate them through using these tools as a method inside the classroom.

      We, as students of the english language teaching program are taking a course on Technology and Education, where tasks and technology are combined all together by the professor in order to engage us with the topic.

    • Guest


    • diana c

      I agree with the professor Shirky, I think social networks are designed to catch the people attention, thus, teachers and professors should control the access to them inside the classrooms. As a teacher to be, I know we must design our classes in order to prevent students from being easily distracting; but, also I am aware of that this is a difficult task and
      sometimes taking this kind of measure is better.

      Nevertheless,we have to keep in mind that the problem is not to use these kinds of devices; the real problem is the way and the time in which students are using them. Thus, we should include the ICTs as much as
      possible in our classes but with a learning purpose; in that way, we can teach our students to make decisions about their own learning process and to be more autonomous. Furthermore, I did not know anything about the effect of the “second-hand” problem, and this is another reason to regulate the use of these devices in the
      classroom in order to avoid collateral damage.

      Finally, our brain evolves slower than technological devices, so, maybe for that reason our multi-tasking tool is not available yet, we only have to wait for it.

    • ELTSs

      This comment was written by three
      students enrolled in a Tech & Ed class. As university students we believe
      that technology is part of our society and banning devices in class and it´s
      definitely not the solution. For us autoregulation is the key factor since the
      concept encompasses our behavior and cognitive processes. Therefore, using Jonathan
      Haidt’s metaphor “The Elephant and The Rider” if we manage to
      self-regulate our inner ‘rider’ it would be easier to control our emotions and
      cognitive work. On the other hand if as a professor, you think you’re losing
      the battle against social media distractions then it might be necessary to
      reflect upon your teaching practice, because our role as teachers is to make
      learning more interesting than whatever possible distraction. Furthermore, if
      the class is about social media then using technology is not an option is a
      MUST. It’s known that students have always found ways to communicate between them
      in class, so it’s not about taking them away, is about getting your students
      engaged in the conversation. Our professor pointed out something interesting
      while our group was working on reflecting and writing down our comments;
      although we had our cellphones and social accounts open, we were fully engaged
      on the task. Sure students are exposed to a lot of distractors that is the
      reason why it is necessary to come up with strategies beyond banning.

    • Silvana Rodríguez

      I do agree with the idea of a collaborative class where teacher and
      students come together in order to develop the dynamic of the classroom to construct learning. For that, it demands students’ focus, but also engaging activities motivated by the teacher whether the student has any internal motivation or not.

      Now, the main topic of the article is using technologies in class,
      mainly the use of social media during classes. The author, professor Shirky, indicated several themes which I had not considered before reading this article when taking into account this topic. For example, the multi-tasking is one of those that could make any teacher reconsider the possibility of letting technological devices be used during the class since the cognitive work tends to decrease.

      However, the author showed a problem resulted from the social networks instead of technology itself and for that it might work to educate our students for that. Here is where collaboration is needed and teachers might start to look over a methodology to make students understand or just accomplished (as professor Shirky do by banning electronic devices) that it is necessary not to lose any focus, for their best. It is necessary to take in mind that students are “trying” to pay attention, more than deciding it. This is why teachers should involve them and plan any strategy to help them for this.

      The metaphor of the elephant and the rider let us regard “teaching as a
      shared struggle” that changes the nature of the classroom.

      Professor Shirky gives us a lot of reasons to re-think the path
      educators can take when using technology in their classrooms.

    • This guy

      PlayEqualsLearning, theres a time and place for everything. Playing with toys is for home, gathering knowledge and information is for school. If you’re not going to focus in class, don’t go. You are only distracting others via “second-hand smoke”

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