Teaching at University and Student Learning

Another semester has begun. My focus this semester is much more on learning theories and teaching with technology. I'm taking three courses: Epistemologies, Integration of Technology in Education, and Undergraduate Teaching Pedagogy. In addition, I plan to lurk and occasionally blog in the Change MOOC.

Today's reflection is about the role of the university professor in undergraduate education. I've been involved in several discussions over the last couple of days about the role of the professor. The area that I found particularly interesting was surrounding how much "control" the professor should have over a students learning. This topic comes up regularly in discussions about whether or not students should be allowed to use laptops or mobile phones in the classroom. One of the main motivations for banning the devices is that the students "get distracted" and spend their time on Facebook rather than engaging in the class.

I have two key responses to this argument. The first is that if students are Facebooking, that is a sign that you as the professor are not engaging them – that is, the students that are Facebooking are most likely bored. In my defence – as I am someone who does occasionally Facebook in class – is that I only do it when I can't hear what is going on, or if I am finding the content of the presentation particularly boring. So as a professor, I can see the number of students in the classroom Facebooking as a measure of how engaged they are in the content.

The second response I have is, who is responsible for students learning? I think that the professor is responsible for creating an engaging environment where learning can occur, but I think the students themselves must take responsibility for their own learning. If students are easily distracted by the devices, then they should know to turn them off themselves. They don't need a professor to mandate it. We aren't talking about children anymore – we are educating adults. We need to stop treating them like children.

Of course, counter to this, is the question of how much scaffolding do new undergraduate students need? Most come from an environment (high school) that was highly structures and most distractions where removed. When they enter university, their lives are full of distractions – so how much help should professors be providing to help them adapt to the new environment?

So, in my classroom laptops and mobile phones will be welcome (big surprise here!). But, I may be inclined to mention basic etiquette at the beginning of the classes – especially for first year students. This etiquette would include things like: turn off the sound on your phone AND your computer – I don't want to here beeps, and if you must answer the phone (some students are also parents, and that phone call IS more important than the class) then they are to leave the room to answer it. Frankly, these should be pretty obvious, but alas, it may need to be said.

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