Thursday, 4 February 2016

Devices off, please.

A couple of years ago, I was talking to a large group of teachers about using digital devices for learning in their classes.  The session was for the whole staff and it seemed to be well received by them.  After my 15 minute introduction, the teachers went on to do some work on their laptops around what I had discussed with them.
I asked the principal at the end of the session to please send me any feedback about how the meeting went and any feedback he had from staff.  The principal sent me an email the following day to say the staff thought that things had gone well but that he just had a few pointers for me about facilitating.  One of the pointers (his idea) was that I should have asked all staff members to close their laptops while I talked.
Now, this idea had never even occurred to me as I quite naturally use my laptop nearly every part of my working day and expect to see others doing the same.   Sometimes I am answering emails, and sometimes blogging or tweeting about whatever I am listening to.  Sometimes I am researching the background or sites related to the presentation topic and sometimes I am just checking my work schedule.

But the principal went on to say that some of his staff were not on task, they were checking emails and doing other tasks and not paying attention to what I was saying.  I have to say that the tasks that they were given were all completed despite his allegations.  I was quite happy with the outcome of the session but he was not happy with his staff.  I suspect that he felt I did not have control over my audience.  I, on the other hand, was outcome focused and was quite happy that teachers were multitasking in their busy day.
My response to the principal at the time was that he had raised an interesting point and I felt it was a good conversation starter.  We never did have that conversation but I often wish I had the opportunity to open it up further.

Recently I attended another meeting where we were asked to close our laptop lids and put away all our devices while we listened to the speaker as he facilitated for two hours. The speaker spent a lot of time talking and leading the session over several hours which involved some interaction with other members of the audience, and moving around but when some of us went back to our devices after a while, we were directed to close them again
Now while I understand how this strategy is useful for short periods of time, but cannot understand how a presenter can realistically expect that learners would not be able to use their devices over prolonged periods of time.  It smacks of the "sage on the stage" unidirectional type of pedagogy that I had hoped would be on its way out.  It does not give any agency to its participants, nor does it allow participants to interact with online content which would have strengthened knowledge about what he was talking.

The argument that devices are distracting is one I have discussed before.  Are they a distraction from learning or are they now an integral part of the learning?  Do they allow participants to interact and process content in may different ways or is multitasking just a myth?  Can new knowledge be created while a presenter/facilitator speaks?  These are all questions that are relevant for todays teachers and learners.  Multiple means of representation, action, expression and engagement are all part of the universal design for learning principles. I think we need to bring these principles into our everyday work and "way of being".

We might need to let go of the obsession for being in charge.  What do you think?


  1. Well said. Being able to actively engage with material being presented by blogging about it and checking links mentioned and including these in my blog makes it much more relevant to me.
    The essential point is that sessions should be outcomes-based. Engaged learners who understand the purpose of the session and the relevance to them and their work will be focused on achieving those outcomes even if they are multi-tasking.

  2. I prefer to have my laptop open to record my thinking or look stuff up and I feel resentful of people who tell me to shut it - like I am five years old and need to be told to behave. #condescending

    BUT I also feel aggrieved that some people are always on their devices doing emails etc not related to the work in hand. I find that disrespectful.

    I would prefer to not have to use my Google log in to reply. I wonder if you could allow comments via URL and name!!



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  3. I agree Leigh, and putting it into the context of our students I think it's interesting! Does listening only occur when still, sitting transfixed towards the speaker? What does this mean for our children during workshops, mat time, group work? I think this all relates to letting go and accepting that earning happens in varied ways.

  4. I think it's all about the mind set of the presenter. A presenter that is always asking for devices to go away (close the lid) is one who only sees them self as the only source of information. "You lot are to sit there and absorb the info I am giving you.". Where as openly encouraging people to use what is best for themselves empowers the learner. The learner is central and will always be the best place to judge their need.
    Now that principal you mention, I think he is very in the boat of the "the learner is there to sit back and absorb, the learner has no clue what he knows, what he should know, what he doesn't understand. The only person who is able to tell the learner what they need is the teacher/lecturer/presenter."

    Last is the off taskness of some of his staff. All that tells me is that those people have been in a system of always being told what to learn, what you do. THEY ARE WHAT 1900's educated looks like. It is a vital skill to be able manage/facilitate your own learning and his staff are lacking in it.
    For me if a presenter talks about someone, you will bet I will have Google searched the person before they have finished the first sentence. I don't want to sit there and memorise what the presenter says so I can regurgitate it later, I want to learn link extend apply myself.

  5. Superb post, Leigh! During sessions, like you, I am often live-blogging someone's session, or following up on resources and leads...and / or taking notes. I find it helps me concentrate on what the person is saying, and to start to form my own mental construction of what is being said.

    Admittedly, if I feel disengaged, I may also end up doing emails or checking / doing work. However, when I do feel invited to engage - and that the session is relevant to me and my context - my device helps that process.

    Why do you feel the presenter felt they needed you to close your devices? (Did anyone ask him? :) - not that I'm a trouble maker :D).

    Couldn't ask you to cross post to the Ethos online community could I? Sounds like a great conversation for that space too :)

  6. Leigh
    How often do we expect or hear people demanding us to be digitally fluent, use 21st Century skills, embrace the 'new world' of learning and then require us to sit in rows in lecture theatres or at tables for inordinate amounts of time while they 'preach' at us from the front of the room with a .ppt presentation and a laser pointer?
    Engagement is a vital part of learning for us all, we often refer to the importance of students being engaged yet as adult learners are expected to act like sponges. As you have observed it is vital to engage learners and using digital technology is a powerful tool for this. I often search for information and take notes, as a learner I respond to activity and drawing, often tweeting and back channelling. To be asked to put away my devices would be not respecting me as a co-learner making it harder to reflect and learn.
    Worrying about people being 'off task' is a challenge we all face, recently I was running a session where everyone was involved in an activity, one participant shamefacedly apologised for not being active " If I don't sort this timetable issue out now I'm in trouble." That made me reflect on our lives and sometimes acknowledge total focus is not possible. So when I think of people checking mail etc in my presentation, I remind myself I don't know what is happening at that point in their life before I make a judgement.

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