Smartphone, laptops and ethics

No laptops or cell phones use in my classrooms. From experience I have learned that these devices are distractions, not enhancements, to learning. Students think they can multi-task, combining learning with surfing and texting, but research shows otherwise.

Now the military is worried about similar problems in the field. Troops are on their smart phones when they should be working instead.

The military’s concern goes beyond divided attention. It turns out that having easy access to home has its downside. While it boosts the morale of many to stay in touch, it also means that soldiers can’t disconnect from the mundane concerns of home. Worrying about everyday domestic matters means losing focus on the job you are there to do.

There is a value to being unplugged, as I know from personal experience. More than forty years ago, for two years my wife and I lived in Kenya. There was one public telephone in town, which we never used since it was too expensive to call home. We wrote letters and made tape recordings. A month later we received a reply. That was it.

Of course, Lyn and I had each other, but our experience was still mainly that of immersing ourselves in another way of life. There was only a thin safety net of comfort in the Peace Corps office 250 miles away, which we also seldom communicated with.

Being disconnected from home meant being connecting to others. And that was one of the real values of living abroad—seeing the world from a new angle, distinguishing between conventions and morals, understanding what privilege is, knowing the role luck plays in what you start with in life.

Doing one thing at a time, allowing new experiences in, taking on another’s perspective—these are worthwhile experiences in an ethical education. Soldiers may have good reason to be instantly connected to home, but for most of us most of the time it isn’t necessary or even desirable.

I ban cell phones and laptops in my classes not because they disrupt my teaching but because I think they deprive students of getting the education they deserve. And at the dinner table with my family, I ask that electronic devices be turned off. We need to listen to one another with both ears, for really listening to another is at the heart of ethical relationships.








4 thoughts on “Smartphone, laptops and ethics

  1. Arthur, my whole department has recently instituted a no tech policy in the classroom. I remind the students to power down, and call it my “Be Here Now” policy. We are all trying to learn difficult material together. Hope you saw the Doonesbury strip on it a while back. I have been enjoying the new blog.

  2. When I taught at FAU, I remember the scathing anger I created in the classroom when I asked my students to close all laptops. Their reactions reflected the sad fact of not being present, tuning out the now and losing the possibility of acquiring information.I was hated! (But, I valued my own responsibilites to teach them.) I’m shocked to see how many other professors allow their students that rude choice to tune them out.

    • While I think it is rude for students to tune me out, the more important concern for them. We need to listen to one another as best we can and this requires our undivided attention.

  3. I have an automatic 5 pt. deduction from final grades if the student uses any electronic device during class. Harsh sounding, but I see the use of these things as actually terribly addictive in a harmful way–in the final seconds before class, they are hammering away on their iphones trying to get oonnneeee last message out, unable to be disconnected for 2 seconds. Even though they are side-by-side with 50 other people, they don’t look up until class starts–totally atomized and alienated. I don’t mean to be a Luddite, but it seriously concerns me that their attention spans are so attenuated, as is their ability to interact with others in a non-virtual setting. I applaud you for your position about laptops etc. !! Give them an hour, at least, to interact and think beyond Twitter!

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