Tech offers opportunities, distractions in classroom

By Caleb Hennington
On February 13, 2014

Since February of 2013, faculty members at A-State have been working to incorporate technology into their curriculum through the iPad Initiative. Although the initiative’s main goal is to help students learn in a more user-friendly and pro-technology way, the question of whether the iPads are helping or distracting students from learning is still up for debate.

Though many teachers have found ways to integrate technology into their courses to accelerate learning, students still find themselves more often distracted by technology than aided by it.

Aspen Copelin, a freshman communication disorders major of Jonesboro, utilizes her iPad as part of her U.S. History course. She said she enjoys using the technology in class but doesn’t feel like it makes the course any easier.

“Sometimes I get distracted by playing on my iPad in classes where it moves slower and the class is larger,” Copelin said. “I think it is both beneficial and a distraction depending on the person and depending on what class they are in.”

In a recent study conducted by Barney McCoy, associate professor of broadcasting at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 777 students were surveyed to gauge the average level of distraction that most students face in the classroom.

Students reported using their smartphone or other internet capable device an average of 11 times per day. Eighty-six percent of students reported texting during class, 68 percent reported checking emails and 66 percent said they use social networking sites during class.

But Gina Hogue, associate vice chancellor for academic service and associate professor of history, said she believes the use of technology in class helps the students to stay more focused on what they are learning.

“The keynote I’m using is projected on their iPad, and the essay that we might be reviewing from the Gilder learning site is available for them to scroll through and take notes, so they’re interacting,” Hogue said. “If we weren’t using the iPads and I was lecturing they might have their phone or digital device out, thinking about something else.”

Paige Walker, a representative for the iPad initiative who works in the Academic Affairs Office, has also seen the iPad initiative aid students in learning course material. She uses her own iPad to take notes, organize her schedule, study textbooks while away from her dorm and has even used it to keep her resume on to show possible future employers.

“One thing that is a good distinction to make is if a student is being engaged in the classroom by interesting content, or interesting representation of that content by a professor, they won’t be distracted,” Walker said. “I think it’s all about how you engage the students in your classroom. If a student is distracted it might not always be their fault.”

Hogue is one professor that definitely believes in making her class engaging and embracing new technology.

“The world has changed and digital devices are here, and I think a part of my job is to help students learn to use their digital resources and to use technology productively, and if I can do that maybe it will shape the way they use those devices in the academic environment,” Hogue said.

She has been using iPads to aid in teaching her class for approximately three years and has witnessed a great success through the use of technology in her classroom.

“While serving as the director of the BSE Social Studies Teaching Program, I had the opportunity to pilot iPads in our program in which students were preparing to teach junior high and high school history and social studies,” Hogue said.

All of the course material, such as textbooks and journal entries, were posted in Apple’s iTunes U, a service similar to BlackBoard in which instructors publish audio, video, and PDF content for students to use in the classroom. An e-book version of the course’s textbook was also created using Apple’s iBook service.

“By having access to audio podcasts and keynotes and other digital resources outside of class, this allowed us to use class sessions to discuss information,” Hogue said. “I could provide further class lectures or explanations as needed.”

This semester, in Hogue’s U.S. History to 1876 course, all students are required to have an iPad in order to complete necessary class requirements. They are also required to purchase access to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History archives at a cost of $25, which Hogue said is considerably less than the cost of a traditional textbook.

So far, Hogue hasn’t seen any apparent adverse effects to using technology in the classroom and has generally received positive feedback from students in her classroom.

“Students have found it very convenient, because they have all their course materials in one place, and they’re not just having to sit and listen to a 15 minute lecture. We’re able to actually engage the content,” Hogue said.

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