Image courtesy of David Romani
For my last two years of high school, I attended a boarding school in central Canada, about 7 hours drive from my parents. This school had some pretty strict rules, especially when it came to the dormitory. We weren’t allowed to have any televisions in our rooms; we had to be in the dorm on weekday evenings by 8pm and in our room with lights out by 10pm. We could only come out to use the washroom, otherwise we were in there until 6 at the earliest the next morning.
For the most part, we followed the rules, but there were times we needed to get some homework done or we just wanted to let loose for a while. That would be when we would pull out the black garbage bags for the windows or we would sneak out the windows dressed from head to toe in black and then drive out of the parking lot with the headlights off until we got to the highway. It was all pretty benign stuff: going to movies (which was also against the rules), heading out for a late-night pizza, or just a drive in the city. We never broke any laws and, at least to me, we kept it clean and fun.
I understand the reason why the school had those rules, even if I still disagree them, but the problem was in how they were implemented. They were responsible for our well being as minors and this was a way they could make sure they kept us out of trouble with a limited staff. They didn’t want us watching shows or movies that the parents wouldn’t approve of, so they cut out the option of watching any at all. They wanted to make sure we would do our homework, so they made us stay in our rooms from 8-9:30 each night. There were reasons for their rules, but the rules themselves didn’t actually work that well.
Instead of keeping us from those distractions, we became fixated on them, or more accurately, how to get around them. When they figured out how we were circumventing the rules, they made new ones, which led us to find new, more inventive ways to break them. We didn’t want to follow them, because we weren’t part of the solution; we had no reason to follow them other than “we were told to.”
I just finished reading an article about banning laptops in the university classroom. I’m still shaking my head. I can’t stop shaking my head. The logic is baffling. Here is how I understand her reasoning:
- Students are on Facebook, Twitter, etc. instead of listening to the instructor.
- Students take better notes on paper than on the computer.
- The instructor had rules about not using the laptop to go on social media, etc., but it didn’t work.
- The teacher wanted to go back “to the good ‘ol days” before PowerPoint (my words, but basically what was implied).
Here is my problem with that. All through grade school, we are trying desperately to get students to think for themselves and to take control of their learning. Don’t believe me? Ask any K-12 teacher and they will tell you this is one of the primary goals of their classroom. Now, once they have the first real opportunity as young adults to apply that skill, they have it taken away from them because the teacher felt slighted. If a student doesn’t want to listen, they can choose not to. I feel that any teacher who takes it so personally when students are not paying attention, needs to realize the classroom is not all about them.
The teacher in this situation said that students didn’t know how to take proper notes on a laptop, so she took them away and taught them shorthand. Wouldn’t it have been better to teach them how to take notes . . . period? I don’t believe that it is the laptop that is the problem, it is that students don’t know how to pull out the proper pieces of information. I bet that if she had taught them how to do shorthand ON THE LAPTOP, it would have ended up with the same results. Also, the things they could remember more were simply factual pieces of information, which brings me back to the test. Is it just a knowledge based test or is it testing them on application? I wager once again that the application of that same information wouldn’t change whether you wrote your notes on velum or an iPad.
I didn’t mean for this post to be an attack on that particular instructor, but on the idea of banning. Forcing someone to do something when they have no stake in the process is futile and unhelpful. Students need to be part of the process; they need to gain an understanding of the reasoning behind the action. If students are disrupting one another in class (this could be anything from something tech related or simply talking while others are trying to listen), that is an opportunity to talk about respect and boundaries, allowing those who are affected by their actions to have a stake in what happens next.
It is controlling, dismissive, and lazy to simply ban something because of the results. Think paper is safer than a laptop? I wrote notes to friends in class ON PAPER. I threw balls OF PAPER in class. Paper, in that situation, could have been banned under the logic that others are using their mobile devices for “non-academic” reasons. It isn’t the paper, or the laptop, or the phone; it is the person. The individual needs guidance and help to understand how their actions are affecting others.
Don’t throw away these chances to help your students grow through the use of controlled, guided instruction on how to best use the tools they are given. It isn’t about what you are seeing, it is about what lies beneath, the reasons for the actions.