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Guidance on Student Use of Devices in Large Classes

Victoria has a devolved environment with very few constraints on the pedagogical decisions made by staff within courses and programmes. Staff are expected to make decisions that are broadly consistent with those made in other courses so that students experience a coherent programme of study, and this includes allowing students to use effectively a standard set of technological tools.

A number of papers and online articles have been appearing where it is claimed that device use is distracting students, both those using the various devices and those seeing others using them. Much of this is anecdote or evidence from artificially constructed contexts that are unlikely to be applicable in Victoria classrooms. The most important factor driving student distraction appears to be their boredom with the material or pedagogical approach. It is very clear that staff adopting active learning approaches have far fewer issues with distracted students.

Victoria has a Digital Strategy for Learning and Teaching (http://www.victoria.ac.nz/learning-teaching/academic-development/digital-vision) that includes the intention that technology be used to enhance the learning experience in classrooms. Tools such as GoSoapBox are being provided to assist in more interactive large class activities and administrative activities like the collection of student feedback are moving online. The wireless networks are being expanded to help students use the Internet flexibly throughout the campus to support these tools. Banning student device use in individual classes is inconsistent with the broader direction being taken by the University.

Some students may use technologies, including laptops and tablets, to make recordings or take notes using strategies designed to accommodate disabilities or personal learning preferences. Students with disabilities are often unwilling to discuss their needs in a public forum and may choose not to identify themselves to staff. Consequently, any challenge of student use of technology should be done with care and respect for their rights and autonomy.

A strategy that appears to balance the various concerns is to remind students at the beginning of a course that they should respect their peers and the teacher and use technology in a manner that is non-disruptive, which may include moving to the rear of any classroom. Students need to learn how to use modern tools as part of their studies, this is strongly required by employers, and part of learning how to use these tools well is their integration into other activities in an effective way. Banning devices does not help students develop the skills needed.