"If your target audience isn't listening to you, it's not their fault, it's yours" Seth Godin
More and more I am reading articles like this one Colleges worry about always-plugged-in students. In it they talk about college professors and administrators who have or are considering unplugging student’s access to the internet or banning technology altogether so students will focus. These learning institutions are moving in the wrong direction!
When we blame or ban the technology, we solve our issue temporarily, but we are ignoring the root of the problem.
When it comes to learning, many educators know banning is the easy way out, but there are a number of reasons behind why students are not paying attention. Rather than taking away student rights and the freedom to use the tools they want, we must address the root of the issue that is causing the problem. My advice comes from someone who teaches adults and students in a “no ban zone.” These ideas work for me and they will work for you.
Ideas for Educators Who Want 21st Century Students to Tune In
1) Problem: You have poor classroom management
Solution: While you may have been a master of classroom management in the days before the internet, the environment has changed. How have you changed your classroom management techniques? Do you let students know when they should have their lids at 90 degrees? Do you allocate at least some free time where students can catch up on their need for personal issues? Are you having students sit in different configurations, sometimes with their laptops, other times they may circle up for conversation or have breakout groups that report back.
2) Problem: You are not engaging your students
Solution: Educators who stand at the front of the room lecturing are not engaging students like me. Even if I’m interested in the topic, I can’t stand sitting and listening to you for a long time. It’s boring. I want a piece of the action. Provide accountable interactivity. Perhaps have students Tweet relevant thoughts, ideas, and links using a provided hashtag and at the end of your lecture you have a fantastic subject specific newspaper to read if you use something like Paper.li. Maybe you can create a method for students to share ideas and thoughts during your talk using a backchannel. While traditional instructors may believe students should sit up and listen, the fact is you are boring students like me to tears, so give me a job to do and I’ll pay attention.
3) Problem: You complain about technology, but you don’t incorporate it into instruction
Solution: Stop complaining that your students are on Facebook and not paying attention and start incorporating tools like this into instruction. People are social. We like to discuss and make meaning. We’ll do this about the thing you’re talking about if you’ll provide such opportunities. Perhaps teachers could make a Facebook page and use that as a hub for students to connect and share during instruction. Perhaps the teacher sets up some discussion boards or Wall Wishers to share ideas. Many 21st century students aren’t content sitting and listening to you blathering on. Make your teaching more interesting, and your students will reward you by being more interested.
4) Problem: You never shut up
Solution: Let’s face it. Sitting in class listening to a lecture is just plain boring for many students. Why do they have to come to school to listen to you talk. Of course your students aren’t paying attention. Flip your classroom and tape your lectures for students to listen to on their own time. Spend class time doing stuff...real stuff that your students are interested in and you can help them with. Parents will like this idea too because instead of needing to hire tutors, class time can be used for the teacher to help students having difficulty with their work. Salman Kahn explains this beautifully in this TED Talk.
5) Problem: I don’t need to hear you telling me something I can look up
Solution: When I was pursuing my license in educational leadership I took my laptop to class. In class I often found teachers were just reading some theory to me that I could pull down from the internet and save in my online bookmarks. This meant I could use class time to do my other work because I didn’t have to take down notes. I already had them. While the instructor shared some such theory with the class, I was already doing the homework assignment we had. At nights I would go out to the local bar while my classmates did their homework. At first they complained this wasn't fair and said I was cheating. As the program progressed, more students had their laptops in class and joined me at the bar later.
If you are just telling students something they can find on the internet, stop. Give them the link and use class time to have discussions, do work, or make meaning of the work.
6) Problem: You think you own the learning. You don’t!
Solution: You don’t own the learning. Your students do. If they’re not interested in what you have to say, then figure out a way to say it in a way that they’ll be interested or ask your students to do that for themselves. If students simply aren’t interested, then perhaps you can give them freedom during class to do what they are interested in. Multi-millionaire, Aaron Iba’s favorite teacher was the one who let him do just that. He got to sit in the back of the room working on his computer.
Another option is to give up some control and be part of a growing and successful trend in letting students own and design their learning. Educators are finding that giving students ownership and responsibility for their learning pays off quite well.
7) Problem: Technology is just too distracting for some students
Solution: Okay, so you think technology is just too distracting for some students. Remember your job as a teacher is to help prepare students be successful in their world, not your past. A teacher is not helping a student become successful by creating an artificial environment in school. Instead teachers can help empower students to take ownership of their learning and self-monitor. Many students are very good at this. They may just have a browser closed at certain times, turn off chat, turn off sound, or as the students in Colleges worry about always-plugged-in students shares, use an app like “self-control” which blocks certain websites for specified periods of time.
Schools should not encourage dependency learning and dependency attention. It is incumbent upon educators to empower students to be able to self-monitor and discover the optimal conditions to learn and create. Imposing restrictions on students, is certainly more convenient for educators, but it is NOT what is best for students.