Reading, writing and … tweeting?

A chalkboard drawing of a small bird and a hashtag symbol, meant to represent Twitter.

Reading, writing and … tweeting?

To help teachers make the most of electronic devices in their classrooms, a researcher at Université de Montréal is tracking which behaviours are distracting and which ones enrich the experience
August 25, 2015

Technology is a divisive issue among teachers. Some embrace it, finding new ways to engage their students through tablets, smartphones and laptops, while others see those devices as distractions or an invitation to cheat.

Thierry Karsenti, Canada Research Chair in Technologies in Education at Université de Montréal, knows that both opinions are right. He is investigating how a teacher’s behaviour can make the difference.

Karsenti is observing 32 tech-integrated classrooms across British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec to better understand how students are using their electronic devices. This gives him real-time data on how engaged students are in the classroom.

“The problem we have now,” he says, “is that many students are using technologies in schools, but getting them to learn with technologies is a very big challenge.”

He has seen classrooms where as many as 80 percent of the students are distracted by technology, using it to visit social media and other websites unrelated to the lesson.

In this podcast, York University’s Melody Wiseheart explains the experiment she conducted to see how students’ test scores fare when they are asked to surf the internet during class. (This podcast is only available in English.)

As little as five percent of students are distracted when technology is used effectively. The difference, according to Karsenti’s research, can be boiled down to three things: how classrooms are managed, how the teachers are using the technology and how they are getting their students to use the technology.

The teacher, for example, can reduce distracted behaviours by 50 percent simply by moving through the classroom rather than standing at the front with a tech gadget. And students are less tempted to surf the web when the task the teacher assigns is challenging, clear and unambiguous. Karsenti says teachers who implement classroom routines will also have significantly fewer distracted students.

In this TEDx talk, Thierry Karsenti, Canada Research Chair in Technologies in Education at Université de Montréal, talks about the inevitable incorporation of tablets in classrooms and how teachers can make the most of it. (This video is only available in French.)

“Many teachers are afraid they’re going to lose their place with technology,” says Karsenti. “That’s not true at all. Our studies clearly show that they really play a key role in the classroom.” In the end, he says, “neither tablets, smartphones, laptops nor any other technologies can foster motivation or learning in schoolchildren. What counts is how they are used by both teachers and students.”

This article was originally published in August 2014.