Tip #494: How to Handle Participant Electronics in a Classroom

young black woman

“You can always find a distraction if you’re looking for one.” Tom Kite

I feel that there is a very simple answer to the question as to whether or not to allow participants to use their electronics during a class-and that answer is “no.”

I have a number of practical reasons to support my answer.

Brain research has shown that people who are “multi-tasking” do not do any of those tasks as well as they would if they focused on one at a time. Do you really think that participants can focus on what a class is doing while distracted with visuals or messaging of one sort or another?

There is the issue that the participants who are actually using the electronics are distracted. There is the additional issue that the participants around them are equally distracted, either by the activity or noise involved, and/or by their thoughts and feelings about what is going on with the offending participant (i.e., “Why is that person so rude?” “Does that person think that he or she is so important?” “If that person can text, so can I…”)

If participants talk during the class in order to clarify concepts for each other, that is a good thing. However, even that conversation can be disruptive. In any case, the facilitator can ask if something needs further explanation.

If the participants are stealth talking to each other via text messages, the facilitator does not know if there is content that has to be retaught. There is also  no guarantee that the text messages have anything to do with the topic at hand.

They might be commenting on the facilitator, or planning what to do after the course.  And how would you moderate that?

Since texting is a way to communicate with others, if we don’t want participants talking until it is time for them to ask questions or to work in a group, why would we want to allow them to text?

In the pre-electronics world, participants waited until breaks to use the phone. If they were expecting an urgent call, they would arrange to have the switchboard hand deliver a message. Otherwise, staff would post messages about non-urgent calls on the outside of the door to the classroom.

I’m very selfish and self-righteous. If people are in my classroom, I want them to gain knowledge and/or skills during the experience. I do not want to compete with the universe of possibility now afforded to anyone with a cell phone or tablet.

So, I ask participants to either turn off their cell phones or to put them on stun (vibration mode). I haven’t done this, yet, but I know of some facilitators who have people place them on a table as they come into the classroom. They can pick them up when they leave for breaks and at the end of the day.

If someone expects an urgent call that they must take, I ask them to take the call outside of the classroom. Even if it is a large room, voices can carry and distract the group.

And if that person goes in and out of the classroom to take and return calls so often that he or she has spent more time out of the room than inside, I draw that person aside and strongly suggest that this is not a good day to be in the class.

If someone has their laptop open, unless they are obviously using it to take notes (and that has been very rare in my experience), I ask them to shut it.

Yes,  I know that schools are starting to give students tablets to use during classes. If what can be done on the tablet is incorporated into their curriculum, that’s a good planned use of the electronics. It is an entirely different matter in any other circumstances, where the electronics would be a distraction.

I want learning to be a mutual collaborative effort between the facilitator and the participants. I do my best to completely and continually engage the participants in learning activities and “voyages of self-discovery.” I would like the classroom to be a brief haven from other issues or worries that the participants must handle after the class. As far as I’m concerned, the distraction presented by electronics is not welcome in my classroom.

So, what do you think? How do you handle electronics?

May your learning be sweet.


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