There’s a lot of emphasis these days on integrating technology into the classroom. ESL instructors are using online forums, language learning applications, e-learning software, websites, and other modern-day tools to help students learn English. But as most of us probably know all too well, sometimes technology interferes in the classroom. I’m talking, of course, about cell phones, iPods, and other tempting devices that lure students away from devoting their full attention to the task at hand. Sometimes during a class I’ll look up and notice that students who I thought were fully engaged are actually sneaking texts and checking email under the cover of their desks. Loud beeps announce the arrival of new messages, and ring tones of every imaginable kind sound off during inopportune times. During computer lab sessions, I find students checking personal email and surfing the web instead of working on class exercises.
I won’t beat around the bush: this drives me crazy. Not that I don’t understand the temptation. Oh, I do. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I have been guilty of similar transgressions from time to time. As an undergraduate (before the era of portable technology), I was once reprimanded for doing a crossword puzzle during a classroom discussion. Gasp! Now, as an instructor, I struggle to find a comfortable way to manage such disruptions. I want to embrace technology and make full use of it as an educational tool, yet I hate spending my time policing students. I resent the distraction a few students can impose on the rest of the class, yet I realize that today’s offenders are essentially engaging in a high-tech version of my own crossword puzzle gaffe. Thus, I have vacillated on my approach to dealing with this issue. Should I set the tone and take a zero-tolerance approach to inappropriate use of technology in the classroom? Or should I try to embrace it fully and figure out a way to integrate personal devices into classroom activities? Or is there a middle-of-the-road approach? Maybe they just need a bit of maturity and a frank lecture on classroom etiquette? I don’t know what the best answer is. Have you struggled with this issue? If so, how have you handled it?