Tips for Minimizing Student Distractions When Using Personal Learning Devices

Posted by Shelley H. on Feb 11, 2016 8:00:00 AM

big-universe-device-graphic.jpgIn my Big Universe blog post from last week, I discussed five ways to use personal learning devices in the classroom. I also promised to come back this week and talk about how to minimize the potential distractions from those devices.

As teachers we have all heard (or maybe even witnessed) the examples of students who are supposed to be using their phones to collaborate and text during a classroom activity, but instead they are texting their friends in another class. Or maybe we have given an assignment on the iPad, and found our students were playing games. Just as our generation used paper and pencil to play games and write notes, we should not be surprised when our students use their learning tools in similar, off-task ways. So what are some ways that we can minimize those distractions?

Here are some tips for minimizing student distractions when using personal learning devices:

  • Be present. Make sure the students see you moving around the room often. If they are supposed to be using technology for school work, be walking around and checking their work. Students are less likely to stray off-task if they know you are looking over their shoulder.
  • Make sure your lesson is engaging. I understand that some things just need to be taught and not every student is excited about every bit of subject matter. However, if you have numerous problems with students being off-task, the problem is bigger than the device they are using. (And most likely the problem is not actually related to the device. Most students can be very creative when it comes to finding ways to be off-task.)
  • Test things ahead of time. Everyone who has ever used technology knows that it doesn’t always work the way we think it is going to. Be sure you test your plans before you expect technology to work in front of a class of 30 students. For example, if you are using a QR code to start a lesson, make sure you test the code. Be sure it still works and points to the website you are looking for. If you are trying something for the first time, have a solid back-up plan in case it doesn’t work.
  • Have clear rules. Don’t assume that students know or understand what your expectations are for their personal learning devices. Many schools allow teachers the autonomy of deciding for themselves how and when to use personal learning devices in the classroom. One teacher may allow students to listen to music while reading. Another teacher may think that is a distraction and misuse of the device. Be sure your rules are clear and make sure you follow-through with appropriate consequences when a student isn’t following them.
  • Have a technology time-out. If you do have a student who breaks technology-related rules, have a place where their device gets stored for a specified amount of time. Be sure there are alternatives to how the student can complete the work without the device.
  • Don’t use technology all the time. There should be plenty of opportunities for students in your classroom to complete activities without the use of any personal devices. A well-balanced classroom has a lecture or presentation component, individualized learning time, technology time, group discussions and group activities. If the class is well-balance between a lot of different activities, students have less opportunity to be distracted when technology is the tool being utilized.

Students will always find ways to be distracted. We all know that most of our students are capable of being distracted by their own imaginations at any point in the day. Being proactive about how to minimize technology distractions can help ensure that these tools assist, rather than detract from, student learning.

What about you? What tips do you have for minimizing technology related distractions in the classroom? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

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