One fear of teachers with increased use of technology in the classroom is that students do not stay on-task or time is wasted. For some this can be used as an excuse not to engage with technology and avoid its use. In schools that have 1 to 1 device programs, a recurring theme that maybe hear in the staff lounge is that teachers are no longer in control and that laptops and iPads distract students from learning.

Cuddling with multiple devices

Recently I read a great blog post from Katie Lepi on the Edudemic website, which provided some useful ways teachers can keep students on-task while having and using technology in the classroom. This post aims to build upon that and provide some more ideas for keeping our students on-task:

  1. You are in control: It is important for us teachers to remember that we are in control of our class. We can establish the agreements for technology use, we can set structures in place to ensure effective use of technology and we can also decide when it is not appropriate to use technology and put it away.
  2. Move around the class: Doesn’t every teacher do this? No, they do not. There are plenty of teachers who choose to sit at their desk or stay in one place while allowing students to do work. This is not good practice, whether there are electronic devices in the room or not. We must move around the room constantly, interact with our students about their work and position ourselves with a view to being able to see what students are doing.
  3. Wi-Fi or access to the ‘Net’ is not always required: We can require students to turn off their Wi-Fi if the lesson does not require access to the Internet.
  4. Structure the lesson: If we are worried about students wasting time browsing the for information, give them the sites they need to access. If we want them to learn how to search effectively, then we must show them how (see my post on avoiding ‘Just Google it!” with your students).
  5. Control application usage: Agree on the applications to be used for the task. This way students know exactly what you are looking for when you wish them to stay on task. If it is a Mathematics lesson requiring Excel, then set the expectation that this is the only application that we expect to see the students using.
  6. Determine the number of devices to be used in group or paired work: When students work in groups, there can be a tendency for individuals to drift off-task. It is possible to for us to ask students to only use one laptop per group for certain tasks so long as it does not increase the completion time needed.
  7. Learn how to use the technology yourself: Probably our biggest problem. If we ignore the technology and how it is used, then we cannot help students use it properly. A common mistake for teachers to make is to assume that the students know how to use the technology to complete the task. This is not always the case; most of our classrooms are mixed-ability and that also goes for our student’s ability to use technology. Subsequently, teachers have a responsibility to differentiate accordingly by providing support to students in learning key skills both to complete a task but also to complete it efficiently without wasting time.

I believe that when it comes to keeping students on-task when using technology, my advice is to not blame the device. Most of the above tips are simple and straightforward and what I would consider commonsense for a teacher in a 21st Century classroom. It is the last point that is the toughest to negotiate and that comes down to whether one chooses to be a lifelong learner when it comes to how we teach. The technology is not going to go away, so embrace the change.