Monday, February 6, 2012
Are laptops/ tablets connected to WiFi forces for good or evil in lecutre hall?
Those against argue from the idea of distraction. The argument is laid out in several recent research studies looking at the effects of multitasking on cognitive performance. The basic idea is summarized pretty well here, in an article from the San Fransisco Chronicle. This is the view held by many basic science course directors who make comments to the effect of, 'if they have their laptops out, they are likely playing solitaire.' I've also seen some people speaking about generational differences in learning styles who state that the Millenial generation has grown up with multiple electronic devices going. This falls back on the data that they feel like they have done this for a long time, and should be good at it, but they are not really. As they don't have any insight into this potential hazard, we as course directors should act to squash this tendency by telling everyone to turn off their electronic devices. Hence, the common wisdom among these presentations is that it is important to have the learners switch off their devices on entering the classroom for their own good.
On the other hand, there are many potential up sides to having a wired classroom. First, audience response systems using web-based or local networks are becoming more sophisticated and more robust. This is much more than the audience clicker system where the audience can push a button to answer usually a multiple choice question (A,B, C, or D). But there are systems like Twitter that can allow 'back-hallway' discussions or ability to ask questions which can be answered by the presenter in real time. Newer platforms can collate rich text entries and also collect images. Many of these allow ability to catch if the audience is out of step more efficiently by than the traditional method of waiting for someone to raise their hand. Secondly, there is also the ability for the individual learner to go down a 'rabbit hole' right away to pursue a question they may have had. For example, I interjected a clinical example of hemiballism after a lecturer was talking about subthalamic nucleus anatomy. I had not shown a video, as I just stood up and extemporaneously gave the discussion. As soon as I was done talking, a student in front of me had called up a video of hemiballism with a video demonstrating it. And these are just a few brief examples of the good that can come from online activity during a lecture.
The last point I'd like to bring up, is that this will likely not be a point of discussion soon. Our med school is considering going to a paperless system where all notes are distributed electronically. Our med school is likely a bit behind the curve on this. My point is the same devices that allow you to read PP slides, and take notes on them also play Angry Birds. There's not currently a good way to facilitate one task while blocking the other. My point is that the ability for a lecturer to demand that everyone turn off their devices. Thus, this may be analagous to a record company trying in the late Nineties to divert attention from digital devices playing their music and focusing only on
CD's. Who's bought a CD recently?
So, where do we go from here? As I look over the neuroscience course this morning, most electronic devices (except mine) are showing slides on epilepsy treatment (which is the lecture we're having today). So most people are using the technology wisely. However, with email only a click away, the temptation is strong for attention to wander? What are your thoughts?