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Go Gadget Go

Panelists discuss the pros and cons of technology in the classroom.
Panelists discuss the pros and cons of technology in the classroom.
December 12, 2011

BMCC hosted an event centered on the issue: mobile devices in the classroom—good idea or bad idea?

Mobile Devices in the Classroom: Peril and Promise was the topic of a panel discussion moderated by Elizabeth Chaney, an Assistant Professor in BMCC’s Speech, Communications & Theatre Arts department.

The panelists were Dominic Mentor, Ed.D., of Columbia Teachers College; Sahat Yalkabov, a BMCC alum and City College technology student; Geoff Klock, assistant English Professor at BMCC; Raquel Benbunan-Fich, Associate Professor of Information Systems at Baruch College and Dr. Jon Serra, Chemistry professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville.

The panel was coordinated by The Technology and Learning Faculty Interest Group (FIG) at BMCC.

Discussions included: If students are constantly using their mobile devices in the classroom, does that mean the professor is boring? Is texting any different from passing notes? And where do you draw the line between being allowing certain gadgets into the classroom, but not others?

Survey says…

“I’m always trying to find ways to engage students in the classroom,” said Serra, who prefers that his students keep their cell phones off. However, sometimes he specifically asks his students to use their mobile devices to access interactive sites such as and Blackboard.

“I’ll set up some ABC questions; mini pre-quizzes they can answer using their handheld device. Then we’ll discuss the class poll results.”

He’s also a proponent of Wikis and multimedia video solutions, and even created a video that explains how his students are being graded. He also encourages his chemistry students to join his Facebook Education page, where he posts science-themed quizzes and videos.

Explaining that “it then becomes a safety issue,” Serra prohibits the use of mobile devices during lab involving chemicals.

Cell phones versus laptops

Benbunan-Fich says in her classes at Baruch, she doesn’t think cell phones are a good idea. “They’re a distraction,” she said at the panel. She believes tablets are better to use in the classroom, as “their uses are more consistent with lectures," and that laptops are the best mobile devices to use in a classroom. “They provide students with the greatest academic potential and can be less distracting," she said.

According to Benbunan-Fich, a study found that when college students used laptops in class, 76% of their classroom time is spent “researching their spring break options, or on Facebook. Most of the students weren’t using their laptops for course-related research.”

“So, if you allow a laptop in the classroom, it has to be integrated into the lecture,” she said.

Taking ownership

City College’s Sahat Yalkabov provided the panel with a “student perspective,” on mobile devices in the classroom.

“I think they’re great,” he said.

Yalkabov believes everyone has a “personal responsibility” to uphold when sitting in a classroom.

“They paid to be there. If they want to waste their time and money checking Facebook, that’s their personal choice and perogative,” he said.

Yalkabov mentioned that many mobile devices contain eBooks and that some students use their mobile devices to record lectures and listen to them later on.

“I recorded my professor’s psychology lectures and for me, it was extremely helpful when studying,” he explained. “I think as long as the student is quiet and not disturbing others it shouldn’t be a problem for them to have a mobile devices in the classroom.”

Outside interaction

Using a slide show, Mentor, of Columbia Teacher’s College, explained that cell phones teach phonics, animation and more. “They can also be translated into other languages and can enhance field trips to museums and monuments that have bar codes. When a bar code is snapped by certain mobile devices, an informative video will appear on the student’s phone and can enhance a lesson or lecture.”

Klock, who teaches English at BMCC, is a proponent of mobile devices in the classroom.

He’d rather his tech-happy students remain inside the class and receive “75 minutes—or less—of learning than to be thrown out for using a cell phone. If I throw them out of the classroom, they’ll hear even less, or none, of the lecture.”

He believes that his relaxed attitude about technology in his classroom has contributed to student retention.

“In my Composition II class, I had thirty students on the first day, and weeks later, I still have 30 students in there.”

As for the “distraction” element, Klock brought up an interesting tidbit: In the 1800s, chalkboards were considered disruptive because teachers turned their back on students.

A popular topic

English Professor Zhanna Yablokova and Janey Flanangan, Director of E-Learning, helped arrange the panel discussion.

“I thought it went very well; about more than 40 people attended,” she said. “It’s such an interesting topic. I had one student ask, well, how is texting any different from daydreaming? Or, what if you prefer taking notes on a laptop? The presenters made me reconsider my approach to cell phone usage in the classroom. I am very understanding of student’s needs, but I let them know I would rather they pay attention.”

Most of the panelists agreed that students learn and process information in different ways—some learn better visually, which is why they enjoy interactive videos and word games.

Others prefer traditional note-taking, or reading straight from their textbook late at night—which is why the topic of technology in the classroom will remain ongoing as technology continues to morph and grow.

“Basically, anything that will help students learn, I’m OK with,” said Serra.


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