Students say ... technology in the classroom: yes, but

This week, I've been at a course design institute, learning how to write and design effective training and classroom experiences. Today, I asked a student panel what, if any, their frustrations were regarding the use of technology in the classroom. 

I've never seen so many hands go up so quickly to give their opinion. Frustrations—they haz 'dem. 

Here's what they had to say: 

1. Know how to use the tech you're going to use. 

One of our panelists had an anecdote about how they lost marks on presentations if their slides didn't work, which was a hypocritical juxtaposition to the amount of time the prof wasted fumbling with the tech to get his slides to work in class. 

If you need to use tech in the class, take the time to learn how to use it. You won't waste everyone's time, and you won't lose the respect of the students.

2. Help students learn the tech you expect them to use. 

Instructors can't assume that so-called "Gen Y" students inherently understand technology—they are just muddling through at a more comfortable level than those in older generations are.

Technology needs to fade into the background of a learning situation.  In order for that to happen, students may need to be given the resources to learn the tech properly. This doesn't mean you need to spend class time on tutorials, but you will have to at least provide access to support and guidance.

3. Have clear expectations around the use of tech in the classroom. 

Another panelist complained of getting the "hairy eyeball" about being on his phone all the time, even though that was what he used to take notes in class. Another told a story about a prof saying: "today's activity is on Blackboard; log in and get it"—in a room with no computers, and not all students had computers in class.

If you need to use tech in the classroom, you need to be clear about what you expect the students to do about it. Do they need to learn the software on their own? Do they need to have something in class to access online documents? Do they need to check their email at least once a week? Lay out the rules, develop accountabilities, and follow through. 

4. Sometimes the best tech is low-tech.

One of the panelists said that some of the best learning she'd experience came from when the instructor turned off the PowerPoint and just used the whiteboard to illustrate a point.

My students do a social media exercise that doesn't use computers, it uses post-it notes. 

Students respond to passion and life experience, and it's hard to convey that if you're over-reliant on technology, especially if comfort with it is an issue. So step away from the slides and share your passion for what you're teaching.