One of the definitions of a pragmatist, I tell my students, is to take a utilitarian view of the world. You go with what works, meaning that if the evidence changes, you have to change, too. It is the opposite of being rigid and ideological. If my new approach backfired immensely, I'd have to rethink it. But so far, and admittedly we're dealing with a very small sample, the results are promising. Each one of my students took the test. All 127 of them. Typically a few people don't take the test, for any number of reasons. But the scores were also slightly higher, by about 1-2 percentage points. What do we make of this? We must be cautious because we're talking about one test during one quarter. Perhaps, just by the luck of the draw, I have brighter students this time around. The scores could have been higher for any number of reasons. I had worked over my spring break to make both my test questions and study guides as straightforward as possible. But my gut feeling is that maintaining a classroom environment relatively free from distraction, and one in which students must take notes the old-fashioned way, is working well. I heard a bit of whining and complaining from students who were not happy that I no longer posted my Powerpoints. And it's a constant struggle to get students to put away their phones. The problem was that too many students in previous quarters weren't coming to class, assuming that having the Powerpoints would save them. It never does and I told them that (some still didn't listen). And besides, if you're a student, and taking notes without laptops had resulted in a higher test score, then what exactly is the problem? This is what every student wants, right? In other words, it's for your own good! You may resent the fact that I have eliminated the possibility of you checking Facebook or texting your friend while I am in the middle of class, but if learning is the ultimate goal here, I'm convinced it will be all for the best.
I can't stand the constant barrage of assaults on higher ed, most of which come from people who have never set foot in the classroom. They mostly come from Silicon Valley types who have a vested interest in pillaging our pensions and privatizing the system of higher ed more than they already have. Your methods are obsolete, they say. You're operating on a nineteenth-century model that has no use for the "modern" or "real world." What a bunch of crap. Capitalism has reared its ugly head again, I'd say. Historians of all people should be the most critical of this pro-business, technophilic impulse; a discourse that assumes an air of inevitability and non-contingency, neglecting how policy and choice matter a great deal. I get emails all the time from publishing companies saying it's unfair for teachers to require their students to go without phones in the classroom. Such consumerist garbage. How dishonorable that you have to insult my intelligence to push a product on me. I'm sorry, but if you can't go five minutes without checking your phones, the problem is decidedly not with my teaching, but with your attitude; your energy; your ability to control yourself. To the extent that the college experience is about more than just knowledge acquisition, and is in fact, in a larger sense, also about preparation for adulthood, what could be more adult that learning to control your impulses? What about all the studies saying the constant distraction of technology has eroded our ability to focus and how we trick our minds into thinking that we're all great multitasking without realizing that multitasking itself is probably one of the worst ways to go about doing things? What about the studies saying taking notes by hand results in greater retention of knowledge than taking notes by computer? I've linked to those studies in previous blogs. I stand by them.