Technology in the classroom: blessing or curse?

Anjanae Crump, Managing Editor

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Chalkboards and textbooks are increasingly fading into mere memories, antiques of a bygone age, as they are being replaced with digital technologies. According to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of college students in the US own a cell phone and 78 percent own a tablet or a laptop.

Many professors embrace sharing their classrooms with these new devices, but most firmly believe technology only belongs in their classrooms when they are in control of the devices.

When it comes to students using the devices, however, many professors are hesitant.

“Study after study has found that students learn more and retain more of what they have learned when they do not have a phone or laptop on the desk,” said University of New Orleans professor Catherine Loomis, who does not allow technology use in her classroom.

Loomis described the incident that cemented her mindset: “When I taught the honors introduction to Classical Greece, I would sit in the back of the classroom for the lectures given by my colleagues.  The students in these classes were UNO’s best and brightest.”

“From the back of the room, I could see what was on their laptop screens, and so could other students: Facebook, email, dinner plans, and once, in 48-point, bold type, the phrase ‘This is bullshit.’ The student kept this message on his screen throughout an excellent lecture. I found this so discouraging that I resolved I would not allow any technology in my classroom, so that no one would have to deal with such distractions during class.”

Not all professors share this sentiment. “Teachers must consider the larger goals and purposes of using technology,” said College of Education and Human Development’s Kenneth Farizo.

“As technology has progressed over the years, we are now able to connect to the world. We have incredible access and opportunities to enhance teaching and learning. We now have infinite opportunities to use technology in the classroom to support learning,” Farizo continued.

He admitted that “technology can become a benefit or a hindrance—it’s all in how it is implemented.” “For example,” he continued, “I once observed a high school class trying to take notes on iPads. It took them twice as long to take notes on iPads than if they would have written notes by hand.”

Some agree that even if technology is a benefit, it must still be moderated in places like the classroom. UNO junior Ahri Buggage said, “I think it depends. I think it’s useful on both sides. Typing is a lot faster, but for certain subjects, it can be a hindrance. I know [that] for math, it would be a problem for me to use technology.”

“Honestly, when I’m really, really bored, you might see me hop on the cell phone and look up a couple of things. But on the whole, no,” Buggage said about her use of technology in class.

She continued, “I think they should leave it up to the student mainly, what works best, but in the end, the student is going to make his or her own decision about what they’re going to do. We’re all pretty much adults.”

But even for professors who want to allow technology, some locations on UNO’s campus make it nearly impossible. Loomis explained, “I would like to be able to make use of technology: for example, using Powerpoint presentations for some of my lectures. But what students may not realize is that this is very hard to do, at least in the LA [Liberal Arts] building.  I have to use my own laptop, for example, and bring my own extension cord. The projectors don’t always work, and professors have to ‘borrow’ a remote control to use them. The rooms can’t be properly darkened.”
Ultimately, Farizo explained that “technology does not take the place of good teaching, interacting with students, facilitating discussions, and engaging students in the content. Only a good teacher can do that.”

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