Why I Let My Students Use Facebook During Class

Thanks to laptops, I have to compete with the most sophisticated portable entertainment device ever conceived by man…welcome to the modern classroom.

Now, I could dig deep into my primal nature and do what authority figures have done for thousands of years in the face of competition: stamp out the competitor. Rather, I keep my inner-dictator at bay and let my students surf freely.

Why?

1). Multi-tasking is an essential 21st Century Skill. Tuning into multiple streams of information is a great way to capture lots of data. Personally, I’ve stumbled upon (no pun intended) countless critical pieces of research because my laptop is attuned to about a dozen feed services simultaneously (Twitter, RSS, Facebook, email….and the list goes on).

Make no mistake, even in a class of 40, I can tell when a student loses focus on me, and I call them out. I want them to know there are consequences for failing to multi-task well.

2). It makes me a better teacher. Having to compete with the likes of Youtube and Collegehumor has turned my lectures into standup comedy. What was once forgettable is now engaging. If I see eyes staring up at me over the rim of a laptop screen, I know it’ll be remembered.

Would you prefer that teachers ban laptops? Do you want employees which are adept at social media?

 

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4 Comments

  • Gregory Ferenstein

    I think studies on this topic are misleading. A link to a CNN article is included below. Studies conclude that on any given task, distractions detract from productivity. But, they don't consider that people need a bit of distraction to remain awake. For instance, I don't like complete silence when I study (music, people, etc). This helps explain why workplaces that allow employees to surf freely can improve productivity.
    http://archives.cnn.com/2001/C...

    |||Here's the internet surfing study: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.a...

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  • Siobhan Curious

    Interesting observations, Gregory. I'd love to know if studies are being done on this issue.

    I can't offer observations of student productivity w/ or w/out laptops, as I don't allow them; I base my understanding on how I myself work when I have a laptop in front of me. It is easy for me to tune out what's going on around me in order to engage with my computer. If I'm already less than enthusiastic about whatever's happening in my environment, it's easier to play solitaire than to make the extra effort to engage. Like most people, my attention is riveted to whatever provides the most entertainment with the least effort on my part. Assuming that many of my students are the same, I think it's best to eliminate the distraction, so they don't have to make a choice (of course I try to be interesting, but I also often require them to stretch themselves, and they're not all interested in doing so.) Some students doodle or space out, it's true; but others will make more of an effort. I see the same effect, for example, when I separate students from their friends or move them from the back to the front of the class; often they become much more active participants.

  • Gregory Ferenstein

    Valid point, Siobhan. It is important to recognize the college classroom as a unique experience, which shouldn't entirely simulate the workplace environment.

    Two responses
    1). I don't notice a difference in the quality of engagement between those with and without laptops. My hunch is this is because if students don't have laptops, they'll find other ways to distract themselves (i.e. doodeling, daydreaming).

    2). Students do not learn multitasking in a supervised environment when they're surfing Facebook at home. Should they do it on the job, they have to know an employer may test them to see if they're on task (my employers certainly did). I think the classroom is a great place for them to hone their tactics of how to be online and be productive simultaneously.

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  • Siobhan Curious

    It's possible that multitasking is a 21st century skill, but it is one that students are already learning in abundance. I believe that the classroom is one of the few places in a student's world that he/she will have the opportunity - and obligation - to focus calmly, deeply and sustainedly on a single task at a time. Until one learns to do this, one cannot multitask effectively. I do not allow laptops in my college classroom.

    Siobhan Curious
    http://siobhancurious.wordpres...