Saturday, January 27, 2007

The clock and other classroom distractions

When I was a mere child attending elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District I had this game I would play to keep myself amused. The classrooms were equipped with these big clocks that didn‘t have second hands. When I was particularly bored, which was a lot, I would count down the time between the clock ticks in my head. I got to where I could count 60 seconds to perfection. When the clocks ticked over to the next minute they would make an audible tick-tock. I imagined that sound to be people applauding as the clock and I were in perfect synchronicity. Can you feel the zen?

Which brings me to the subject of today‘s post. The control-freaks are at it again. This article from the Chronicle of Higher Education: Distractions in the Wireless Classroom is being discussed in two lists that I read, and I'm sure in countless other places. Of course, we have seen this same discussion many times in the past, and I have even posted on it before: Multitasking: A skill we should be grooming*.

Where the article is basically a total Luddite rant, and has nothing positive to say about the role of technology in learning, I will cut to its last paragraph to sum it up:

Despite digital distractions, large classes, decreased budgets, and fewer tenured colleagues, professors still are responsible for turning students on to learning. To do so, we just may have to turn off the technology.

Right, that will work. Professors, this is not about you. If the learner is not engaged they are not engaged. Period. Forcing them to listen or watch or whatever will not make them learn. People can process all sorts of input streams simultaneously. Especially this current generation. It is a skill. A tremendously important skill. It is only output streams that demand our full attention, that require us to turn off the input streams and to concentrate. If your pedagogy does not involve the learner in thinking it doesn‘t matter what distractions you attempt to drive from the classroom. You can turn out the lights and keep them in a dark room with nothing but your voice and they will still find a means to check-out. All I needed was a clock… So stop with this nonsense.

I‘m going to make a list of all the things that are good about opening the wires to the classroom. It will start with transparency. Stay tuned.

* I know that link doesn‘t work. I‘m starting to wonder if NC State doesn‘t keep my posts around after a certain length of time? I think I remember looking for something from a while back once before and not being able to find it. If this is indeed the case I will be out of here and to a new location tomorrow. Time to ask some questions.

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