Mental Health Purpose of Teaching

Devices in Class

As colleges, and schools more generally, discuss the wide-ranging implications of ChatGPT for the future of education, I also encourage us to revisit our approach to student devices in the classroom.

Several years ago, I resisted blanket technology bans and what I viewed as punitive device policies. But as we emerge from the pandemic, a time when young people spent countless hours on and with their devices, I am rethinking this stance.

This semester, largely driven by my concerns about student mental health, I am asking that students put their devices away unless they talk to me about why a device is essential to their learning.

I am driven to do this by two main thoughts. First, students who are anxious about speaking in class have little reason to speak if they feel that none of their peers are listening. What is worse is when a student begins to speak and notices peers flipping up screens. Though it may be unintended, this small move communicates a tremendous lack of care if not outright disrespect.

Second, when one or two students are on a screen, it seems to trigger an overwhelming desire in other students to want to get online.

Having enacted this new policy, I am met with some resistance and also what I interpret as a relief. I don’t think young people want to be habitually, or chronically, online. But if this mode has become second nature, if not offering some form of comfort, they won’t automatically do what they know to be in the best interest of their learning and wellbeing.

A blanket device ban may not work for everyone, and it will certainly be something I revisit over the course of the semester. But I encourage us all to think about what devices do to the quality of learning and the quality of belonging in our classrooms.