On Teaching Fashion: Personal technology in the classroom – friend or foe?



As the New Year starts and I return to teaching after a long break, I wonder whether technological gadgets are a friend or foe in a classroom setting. When I last taught, I did not have to be concerned about mobile phones in the classroom, let alone tablets or ipods. This is because just a few years back, mobile phones were very basic and could only send and receive calls and text messages. Do you remember those days?

My students at a boarding school in England thus never once looked at their phones during class. And when I taught a summer program in Paris, my hard-working students – who had come to Europe mostly from the USA – were rendered to using cheap calling cards in combination with the school’s land line to communicate with their families. But technology has rapidly evolved and now everyone seems to have personal smart technology on them. For me it is a concern and I need to find the right approach or else I fear ending up like Mrs Krabapple in the Simpson’s episode “Bart gets a Z”. It’s a funny episode which – in the first 10 minutes or so – shows a disaster situation in a classroom where every single child is busy with a smart mobile device. Poor Mrs Krabapple confiscates them all in her desperation, but then looses her job for the duration of the episode.

Personally, I find that smartphones have the power to be extremely distracting and I am much more productive when I put it away or even turn it off. Recently I overheard two high-school girls speaking on the bus: “Don’t worry,” one of them addressed her friend, “I will make you switch off your phone and lock it away while we study for the exam. You won’t believe how well you will learn!”

So is this the way to go? Should the phones and other smart gadgets be simply locked away during class time? Have you ever asked yourself this question or was it addressed amongst your colleagues?

There are different opinions circulating amongst educators on the net, some claiming that easy access to internet information can help with communication and discussions in class. My colleague who teaches sewing and draping states that since her students’ hands are busy with creative work, their mobile phones are left untouched. But what happens when you are teaching fashion theory and everyone is sitting behind a desk? Do you feel there should be a different policy depending on the type of lecture?

At my particular institution the students receive a laptop when they start university, and naturally it is intended for use in class. So this I will have to tolerate and I should embrace it in the classroom. In fact, I look forward to giving presentations and asking students to look up a certain important website or see them type up their notes instead of writing them on paper, using the laptop very professionally like one would do in an office.

Interestingly, exactly this opinion has been supported in recent studies: “Two classroom-based studies reveal that the use of laptops, in particular, can have a positive effect on student attention and learning—if these tools are used for course-related, instructional purposes. However, when in-class laptop-use was not a required part of the class, the students in these studies reported lower levels of engagement and learning.” http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/Journal/Reviews/Pages/Research-In-Class-Devices.aspx#.VMIPhS7gT9o

Still, there are the mobile phones (and tablets) which can have chat and messenger applications, photos to exchange, etc. which certainly are not course-related. And today, when I sat in on a colleague’s lesson I whitnessed the use of them: Once the students’ brains were tired from all the theory, they effortlessly resorted to tapping away on their smartphones or chatting. It seemed to me that their dwindling attention was reinforced through phone usage. Had they resorted to doodling, I think they would have still perceived more of the lecture.

Actually, if you look on the net, there is quite a lot of research proving that phones are a nuisance and should be banned from classrooms.

For example, “a study by Duncan, Hoekstra, and Wilcox (2012) demonstrated that students who reported regular cell phone use in class showed an average negative grade difference of 0.36 ± 0.08 on a four-point scale. Students also underestimated the number of times they accessed their phones while in class. While students reported an average access rate of three times per class period, observation data showed the rate was closer to seven times per period. An interesting finding is that other students are distracted when students text in class (Tindell and Bohlander, 2012). So while a student may claim he’s only hurting himself when texting, studies show that others are affected also.” (- See more at: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/cell-phones-in-the-classroom-whats-your-policy/#sthash.s7gi3WFA.dpuf)

And in Japan, a country which loves its very advanced mobile phones, just a few years ago the government stated that “students will be prohibited from using cell phones at the majority of public primary, middle and high schools.” (Source: http://www.treehugger.com/gadgets/schools-in-japan-to-ban-cell-phones.html)

For me, this information is very insightful. In on-line forums, teachers who have a no-phone policy point out that this must be made clear at the beginning of the semester. Some make students lay their phones on a table so that they are in sight, but out of reach. A stricter method is to drop students’ grades or even fail them if they do not comply with the policies. However, an exception must be made out of consideration for students who are parents and need to be reachable by their child’s day-care facility.

Now having read up on this topic, I personally feel that most personal technology in the classroom is rather foe than friend. I might try this approach in the upcoming semester and tell the students:

“A few years ago I worked for Japan Airlines as a flight attendant.” (This was my way of researching Japanese culture and language.)

“So let’s imagine that this classroom is an airplane. We are taking a flight into the most interesting topics. During the duration of our flight, all mobile pohones must be switched off and put away. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding. Please enjoy your classroom flight!”


Photo credit: Innakammer.wordpress.com

What were your experiences with technology in the classroom and what are your personal policies and those of your institution?

Have you tried to integrate technology into the course material and how did it benefit the students? Do you perceive technology to be distracting or helpful?

Nota Bene: By the way, most airlines make you turn off electronic devices during take-off and landing not because of electronic equipment interference, but because in case of an emergency your full attention is necessary in order to hear the crew’s commands and successfully survive a dangerous incident.


(Opening Image credit: http://www.edudemic.com/comic-will-texting-replace-raising-your-hand-in-class/)

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  • Frank Perri January 23, 2015 05.57 am

    I come from a different generation I guess – laptops were just starting to come into use in college as I graduated. Personally if I were to return to school today, I’d still use a notebook and a pencil. Especially as a creative person, I find it much more engaging and stimulating to interact with the note taking media directly – drawing arrows and lines to cross reference points, or drawing columns and tables on the paper, folding the paper in half and thirds longways to help divide the columns. Making notes in the margins. These are all things that I feel help me organize my lecture notes but there are no easy ways to do on a laptop. Even a tablet, for that matter as well. I mean, you can draw directly on a tablet much like writing on paper yet there’s something about just putting pencil to paper when taking notes that makes my brain work a lot more creatively.

    As far as smart phones, I don’t think they really provide anything but distraction. There’s nothing that can be displayed on such a tiny screen that can’t be represented better on something bigger. Those things are a curse.

  • On Teaching Fashion: Personal technology in the classroom – friend or foe? | Teachers Blog
    January 24, 2015 - 4:53 pm

  • Karen February 15, 2015 12.38 am

    Great article! I also struggle with deciding on letting my students use their laptops in class. I know it’s easy for them to become distracted with social media or shopping (yes, I’ve seen more than one student shopping online)!

  • Olga March 04, 2015 10.15 am

    Thank you for sharing your methods, Frank Perri! I’ve never tried folding paper in order to divide columns, but it makes alot of sense. I’ve also come accross research which supports your opinion, that the brain works in a completely different way when we use paper instead of monitors. The article I remember stated that reading a physical paper book helps our memory whereas things we read on a monitor do not tend to “stick around” in our mind for long.

  • Olga March 04, 2015 10.16 am

    Karen: Oh shopping during class? That sounds so wrong. Have you ever tried to ban the laptop from class?


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