This January, the Center for Teaching & Learning teamed up with the Instructional Technology team here at Connecticut College to put on a Talking Teaching event called “Digital Devices in the Classroom.” I was fortunate to attend the event; I had admittedly been thinking a lot about devices in the classroom this semester. Traditionally, I do not like students to have devices in my classroom unless it is for a particular activity. I often go technology free myself, often writing on the chalkboard when I lecture. It helps slow me down so students have time to take notes, and I feel like I am engaging more with the class. This is especially true for my introductory course: in a large room with many students, I did not want devices to distract students.
This semester, things have changed. I have several students with learning accommodations allowing them to have technology in the classroom for note-taking and to be able to increase the font size on materials I pass out in class so they can see it better. This alone got me thinking about accessibility issues and pushed me to make my teaching more accessible via technology. Now anytime I lecture, I make sure to have slides. I create them in Google Docs and link them to the course Moodle page. Students are welcome to bring up the slides in class on their computers as we go through them. I do not put “all the answers” on the slides; students still have to take notes. Students who need the visual accommodation are not alone in having their devices out, and since most students do, it becomes normalized behavior. No one is squinting at the board, moving to get out of the glare from the overhead lights, or trying to decipher what can be poor handwriting on my part.
The other reason I started encouraging the use of devices in my classroom is because of the limitations of one of my teaching rooms. The room I am in is a common room for a dorm; it has its upsides, including mobile furniture that is great for discussion. The problem is that we have one large board-room like table, and the “projector” (a large screen TV) is behind half of the students at this table. It turns out that posting the slides on Moodle solved the problem with the location of the TV: students whose backs are to the slides I am projecting just pull them up on their laptops and follow along that way.
Discussing all of this at the Talking Teaching event, several colleagues noted that the key to success when using digital devices in the classroom is having a technology policy. Even better is to include it on the syllabus and actively talk about it in the classroom. Other key ideas were reminding students of the technology policy periodically, and being willing to experiment and adjust as the semester progresses. This semester’s policy is a big experiment for me, but it is certainly helping me create a more inclusive learning environment.