Image source: sparksheet.com
Few individuals who have stood in front of a class of students willingly tolerate chattering when the students should be listening to them. This is a social convention and, indeed, it is one that applies in other social settings outside of educational institutions. Traditionally, it is seen as disrespectful behaviour, and a sign that what the teacher has to say is of little or no interest. If ‘talking’ takes on a silent, electronic form in class, does it make it any less offensive?
My personal view is that in an age where technology is ubiquitous, not only is this form of talking less offensive, it should be actively encouraged. This video clip [2:30] from the PBS Frontline ‘Digital Nation’ programme provides an interesting contrast in views between faculty and students at MIT about what constitutes acceptable use of the Internet while a class is in progress. The faculty view is that if students are not giving their full attention, they risk missing something important. The student view is that important stuff does not come up every minute of every class, in which case, they can be doing something else while the teacher is talking about something they already have a firm grasp of.
I’m inclined to agree with the students, especially if they are discussing something that has been raised by the teacher with a classmate on Skype or, better still, they are Googling a resource that has been referred to by the teacher and they are sending tweets (appropriately tagged) that share their findings with others. Thus, rather than pay less attention, allowing this type of talk in class actually increases the level of engagement, and while there will be those who suggest that multitasking is damaging to concentration levels, my sense is that it can enhance learning if it is channelled in an appropriate manner.