Closing the Laptop Lid: Technology as a Distractor in Lecture

Covert In-class Recording

The researchers presenting at this session sat behind four DPT students who were notorious for looking at other distracting things (shopping in the browser, chat apps) on their laptop. The covert researchers pointed a GoPro at the unsuspecting subjects’ laptop screens. They counted the number of times the students switched switched away from and then back to lecture apps (slides, PDFs, etc…) The range on the graph looked like 20–64 counts each student! This was over a 12 minute period.

These data were biased but still show the extreme end of the most distracted students in PT lectures. I don’t know what class this was in or if this was a guest lecturer. This definitely calls to mind the work of Fried et al. 2006 showing that students using laptops the most had the poorest performance in the class. I have a problem translating that study to PT lecture because I believe that study was looking at large 200–300 student undergrad psychology lectures. However…

“These four students are also the poorest performers in the class.”

So what can be done?

Now that the presenters demonstrated that studentsfour students, are distracted in lecture what can be done? Some attendees say they walk up to the student and shut their laptop lid. I don’t think I would do that. I take the challenge of engaging my students in lecture seriously and I tend to question my teaching methods before I question the motives of my students.

I read a study recently that suggested that large lecture halls be divided into laptop friendly and laptop free zones. This is in amp effort to minimize distraction of other students as a consequence of all the laptop usage. I think that could work.

I was seated next to some pleasant students from Georgia State University and they were telling me that they would be offended if a teacher came and shut their lid. They liked the view point that students time is valuable and if the lecture is not engaging they will check out and start working on other tasks, sometimes for other courses, sometimes to watch a World Cup soccer match.

Session Wrap Up

This was a very engaging session with good small group discussion and interesting data on laptop usage in the DPT classroom. So many concepts were flying around it made for a dizzying session:

  • We never allow ourselves to become bored
  • The need for time to do deep work

Fortunately their is a lot of good literature out their on good practices for tech use in the lecture hall, a majority of it demonstrating that tech use is a good thing to incorporate. How do you incorporate technology into your DPT lectures?