How smart devices for learning remove ‘the Facebook problem’

The Facebook problem? What problem’s that then?
I know you know, but for the sake of completeness let me lay it out.
Traditional classrooms fitted with PCs or populated by students with laptops and mobile devices are, according to some lecturers, plagued by students who cannot leave Facebook alone and this means they are continually distracted. Despite my wonderful and engaging teaching style and carefully designed activities (!) I have to confess that I have experienced this. I’ve ended up teaching from the back of PC Labs so that students leave their PCs alone unless they are on task.
Now, there are positive takes on this phenomenon too. They fall into two camps:

  1. positive and optimistic, as in, “perhaps they’re making notes or looking stuff up”
  2. scaffolded, as in, I will ask them to make notes, look stuff up or work in (virtual) groups

I just bumped into Chris Hall (@goldblach) who gave a provocative talk about the ethics of encouraging students to use state of the art smart devices at the last MELSIG event. Despite this critique, I know Chris to be very open to ideas about innovative teaching and learner engagement. He was talking about ‘the Facebook problem’. Chris teaches video editing and this is typified by teaching in PC labs that may be well equipped but nevertheless are laid out uniformly in serried rows. Like lecture theatres in that respect: students sit side by side, eyes front (well that’s the intention) unless they are required to write, make or look up something. It’s very fixed and regimented and you wonder who this design was intended to benefit. But this is what we tend to do in Universities. It’s often as simple as fitting people into a room efficiently with the assumption that anything important will be happening at the front. And that explains why many academics assume that important things happen at the front.
Anyway, Chris was telling me how he’d solved the Facebook problem (I’m exaggerating on his behalf!).
He changed location. To a non-PC Lab, to one of our more modern rooms where the furniture is not necessarily stunning but is not pointing to the front. The chairs are simple and they’re light. The walls have glass panels on them so students and tutors can scribble or stick things on them. There’s space, light, and outside there is informal seating for breakout discussions. Not rocket science – many universities have been thinking differently about flexible space for a good while now.
But back to Facebook and technology. Chris’ students arrived for class and, it seems, are now on task. The technology they’re using is their own technology. Apparently no one has flinched at the suggestion that they use their own smart devices and laptops. After all they are becoming or aspiring to be professional video editors and so the technology should be as pervasive for them now as it’s likely to be when they graduate.
The real point is they are active because they can be active. Nobody’s bothered with Facebook for the time they have something useful to do together. They may dip in or out. Who knows? But Chris tells me what he has seen is real engagement. And now he’s upping the challenge for them. Rather than being preoccupied with ‘the problem’, Chris is keeping his students occupied with authentic learning problems.

About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
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1 Response to How smart devices for learning remove ‘the Facebook problem’

  1. christopherhall2014 says:

    Hi Andrew

    I response, here’s a some of the feedback that we received for this module, Social Impact of Digital Media, this year,

    Matt and I are proud of what we’re achieving on this with the students – more of that later – and are happy to share any thoughts with you or others.

    We also received excellent feedback from our external examiner last week – “Where do I sign up?”. And he was impressed with the work that the students produced for assessment.


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