Dear students, please use your phones in class.

For the past five years or so, I have been teaching exclusively online. But this past fall I was asked to teach a classroom-based course at the last minute due to a health issue with the instructor who was originally scheduled to teach. It was a big shift to go back into the classroom after working online for so long.

Before the course even began I e-mailed the entire class to let them know that I expected them to bring a device (laptop, tablet or phone) to class. I was perfectly transparent that I’d be expecting them to use their devices throughout class for learning purposes to look things up, share information and do projects together during class time.

Students used their devices to take notes, look up articles or websites or whatever they needed. We used Google docs to take notes and work on projects in real time.

It was a 3-hour class, so we also took a break halfway through. I found that most of students took some time during their break to text or check their email. Most of them self-regulated so they were doing personal stuff during break time, but if they did happen to check their e-mail during class, I didn’t chastise them. My attitude is that everyone in a graduate-level course is an adult and they can figure it out.

I aimed to keep my “lecturing” to a minimum. I had students learn through activities, games and projects. They had to work on specific tasks or activities during class, often with a partner or in groups, so they were busy the whole time.

I have changed my teaching approach dramatically over the years. I talk way less than I used to. Now, I focus on having my students engage in more doing and less sitting-and-listening.

Some profs still think it is a good idea to stand up and lecture for 3 hours. If you’re going to do is ask students to sit there and do nothing more than passively listen for 3 hours, you’d better be a spectacularly captivating speaker is all I can say.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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