Recently, I noticed a student using her cellphone to take a picture of a page in a textbook of the student beside her. Curious, and fearing I could be witnessing some blatant cheating, I asked what was going on.

The student explained that she had taken the picture to do the assignment. She couldn’t afford the textbook, so using her smart phone, she took a picture of the page we were working on in class, read it and would answer the questions via email.

The ever-evolving role of technology in the learning process can be difficult to keep up with. Teachers use smart boards and podiums, students take notes on laptops or tablets. They can write essays on computers and submit them electronically, and they can be graded and returned the same way. They do research using their laptops, tablets and cellphones, even while class is in session.

All of this was unimaginable a decade ago. New technology enables students to get instant answers to questions they once would have had to search an encyclopedia to obtain. What is Newton’s First Law of Motion? The answer, the Law of Inertia, can be found in seconds. Who is the Father of History? The name Herodotus appears on the tablet’s screen in less time than it takes to write it by hand.

While there are myriad opportunities to enhance learning and teaching, new technology comes with a price. Some people, not only students, seem unable to refrain from checking their cell phones for emails or text messages, no matter what the social situation is. While opinion is divided over whether people are actually addicted to their cell phones, many behave as if they were.

For a teacher, observing a student checking their cellphone during a lecture or class discussion can be irritating, to say the least. Students who appear to be taking notes on their laptop are sometimes surfing the internet. New technology also offers new opportunities for cheating.

How widespread is the use of electronic devices in the modern classroom, and how do teachers cope with it? How many students make use of them as part of their academic work?

To find out, I surveyed my students and fellow part-time instructors. Students responded with a 100-percent yes when asked if they use electronic devices in schoolwork, with 95 percent stating they are essential to their education. Sixty-six percent admit to checking phone or text messages during class, and 59 percent

admitted to texting in class. Eighty-nine percent believe technology is important

to education.

“It’s essential,” commented one, but there were some caveats.

“People can get too attached to technology,” said another, “and they can’t think.”

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Numbers tell a slightly different story when you ask teachers. Sixty-two percent say they do not allow cellphones in class, and an amazing 97 percent see cellphones in the classroom as a distraction, compared to 45 percent of students. Fifty-eight percent of the teachers see the new classroom technology as useful in the educational process, but only 52 percent say they make use of it.

Comments made by teachers were also revealing.

“A few years ago, I sadly was introduced to the world of cheating via smartphone,” wrote one.

“Technology can be a highly effective tool,” wrote another.

Smart boards, online discussions, smart phones and tablets — new technology is making itself felt in the modern classroom. But it is bringing with it new challenges, both for the students and those teaching them. As one student said in her response to the survey, “It’s addicting!”

Mark James Miller is president of the Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College. He can be reached at sunrune@charter.net.

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