From the Desk of the Director: Cornell time machine?

Cornell Daily Sun quote

I just read this article in the Cornell Daily Sun about classroom laptop use. The article talks about “ the inherently distracting nature of electronic devices within a classroom environment.”

Suddenly I was in a time machine, finding myself 10 years ago in Bailey Hall, where we gave lectures to 700+ students in the Introductory Biology course (Bio 101-104).

Our first slide was always a funny image with an old style flip-phone crossed over. It was really distracting when those loud, electronic rings broke our sentences in half, so none of the lecturers appreciated it when students used their cellphones. It was also distracting when a student, sitting in the first row, managed to text for 50 minutes straight.

If you walk into my Investigative Biology (Biog1500) class today in 2016, the following picture will find you:

Biog1500 - Lecture Hall

Can you count the number of electronic devices in the picture? With movement shifting towards more engaged learning in large classrooms, and replacing the “sage on the stage” method with active learning, all of these laptops, tablets, and cellphones are amazing tools of modern pedagogy.

I start my Investigative Biology lecture (400+ students) with a question using an online polling software (www.polleverywhere.com), and students have to use their laptops, cellphones, or tablets to answer the question. During the 50 minute lecture, I engage in dialogues with the students, asking them questions, their opinions, etc., and these online platforms are fantastic tools for these conversations. I have students find scientific journal articles in class, look up information online, etc. Instructors who limit laptop or cellphone use in the classroom are really missing out on tapping into digital pedagogy.

Do students look at their Facebook page, or Twitter feed in lecture? I am sure, but it is my job as an instructor to make my lectures more interesting than pictures posted about last night’s party on Facebook.

I usually have a TA tweet during my lectures about the weekly topic, or post pictures/videos on our course FB page, so students learn, even if they are on social media. If I want to engage 400 students, I have to encourage the use of electronic devices…

After reading the Cornell Daily Sun article it felt like teaching was stuck in the 19th century at Cornell, and it is not true. We are at the forefront of digital pedagogy and educational technology use, and that inevitably includes utilizing the students’ electronic devices in the classroom. Just walk into Call Auditorium in Kennedy Hall on Tuesday mornings at 9.05, and you will see hundreds of laptops in my class. The more the merrier…

Mark Sarvary

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