De-teching teaching

Alan Jacobs, one of my favorite thinkers on digital humanities and culture, speaking on tech in the classroom and on study (note the hyperlinks inline):


Is it okay if I bring my laptop to class to take notes?

No, sorry, not any more. I understand that you may well love your laptop and have a great relationship with it; I feel that way about mine, at least sometimes. But there are problems with using digital devices in classes that are devoted to the close reading of texts — and the distractions of the internet are only a part of it. You may think you’re a master of multitasking, but you are not. No, I really mean it. Seriously. Furthermore, a series of studies indicate that notes taken by hand are far more effective than typed notes; there are multiple cognitive benefits to writing by hand. And people who use laptops in class not only experience a decline in their academic performance, they contribute to lowering the grades of other people as well.

Moreover, a number of studies also suggest that reading comprehension is significantly higher for people who read on paper rather than on screens. So having a paper-based, non-digital classroom experience makes great sense for the kinds of things I teach and the ways I teach them. And anyway, you can do without your digital devices for the three hours a week or less that we’re together. It’s not a big deal.

Some have suggested that future studies, focusing on “digital natives,” will tell a different story — that these differences in analog versus digital technologies are an epiphenomenon of a dying paper-and-codex world. That could be true; and if it turns out to be true, I’ll change my policies. (As a famous economist is reported — probably inaccurately — to have said when accused of inconsistency, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”) But for now, all the studies point in the same direction, so I’m basing my policies on the state of current knowledge.

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