Friday, August 31, 2012

Bad Manners Night and Classroom Electronics

I was talking to a friend who teaches at a state university--not the flagship university, but not the teeny-tiny regional backwater either.  She's in a First Year Experience kind of program:  all the entering first-year students go into these classes where they read the same book and learn to write college-level papers and are guided through college-coping skills.

She told me about an experiment she's trying.  After years of banning cell phones and texting and more and more draconian punishments, she decided to give the students ownership.  First, she led discussion sessions where students analyzed why they wanted to text during the middle of this expensive educational experience.  She had them try an experiment:  for one class, they would use no electronic devices.  In fact, she had them all take notes by hand.  She reminded them that it was just for one hour.  They never had to do it again, if they didn't want to.

They tried an alternate experiment.  For one day, they had no rules when it came to electronics.  They could text, they could make and take calls, they could update their social media sites.

It reminds me of my dad's experiment which my family still remembers vividly:  Bad Manners Night.  For one dinner, we could behave however we wanted.  We could pick food up with our hands.  We could put our faces in our plates.  We could slurp and chomp and chew vigorously with mouths wide open.  Suddenly, we understood why etiquette rules exist.

The students decided that they liked the electronics-free class better.  They were amazed at how much more information they retained when they took notes by hand.

My friend, their teacher, gently reminded them that they didn't need to remember and memorize every little particle of every piece of information from every class.  She's noticed that each year's students seem increasingly frantic and concerned about retaining information.  They record and take notes and panic when they can't remember.  She tries to get them to focus on determining what's important to remember and what's not.

I'll be interested to hear how her experiment progresses as the semester continues.  Will the students continue to ban electronics from their classroom?  Will they decide that they want the freedom to type quickly?

And I'll be interested to hear about this kind of experiment in future years.  What would my friend do if her class had a fairly even split, if half the class wanted to use electronics and half wanted to ban them?

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