By Kim Loenhart, Educational Technology Development Coordinator, EDC

Have you heard the term “phubbing?” It’s a combination of the word “phone” and “snubbing.” The distraction of technology is so preeminent in our minds as a society that we’re creating a whole new vocabulary set to describe it. So, not surprising then that instructors are looking for advice on this front. Managing technology use is a popular topic for the ed tech team, and we are often asked our opinion on instituting a “no technology policy” in class.

My first response to the question, “Should I institute a no laptop policy?” is that instructors need to do what works for them in their classrooms. The classroom is your space to experiment in and to test out new strategies and ideas. There is nothing wrong with trying a new policy for a semester, critically analyzing the effects of it, and then modifying accordingly.

Here are some questions to consider if you are thinking of a no tech policy:  

  • Do you want to spend time policing the policy? Creating a policy that you are not ready to enforce or act on doesn’t improve your credibility. The act of monitoring devices in your class and calling out students who have devices out can also distract from the learning environment.
  • What is the bigger issue you are worried about? Is it students using technology, or is it students not paying attention in class to what you are teaching? Attention is important for learning, and while technology can distract, it can also be used to focus student’s attention on specific learning or collaboration tasks. Are there ways you could integrate devices instead of banning them?
  • Do you like being without your technology? When you go to a meeting, do you bring your phone/laptop/tablet and engage with it at any point? Some people generally feel lost without their phones to help organize and structure their lives. Some people might need to be in regular contact with their devices, such as students who have children or students waiting to hear about a job or who have medical concerns.
  • By cutting out devices, are you also cutting out important ways that devices can assist in learning? Some students might use devices to organize their thinking, to record critical information and to look up keywords. Some students might have a disability, such as a fine motor delay, and might need their laptop or device to take notes.

Once you’ve thought through your rationale and justifications for a no tech policy, consider the other strategies you could use to manage devices in your classroom. Perhaps there are alternatives to consider as well.

For instance, you could:

  • Institute no-technology zones (i.e., if students are bringing devices, have them sit in a designated zone to minimize distracting others)
  • Create learning opportunities specifically for devices, such as having students download a set of PowerPoint slides and filling them in as you talk, or having students do small group work and record notes on their conversation to add to a discussion forum in cuLearn.
  • Ask your students for their input on how to manage technologies. Mention your concerns about tech and what you need from them in the classroom. Remind them of your goals for the course and of their reasons for being in class. Establish a policy together, such as a Course Terms of Engagement document that outlines appropriate class behaviour and class conduct overall (i.e., food/drinks in class, technology use, late entrances/early exits, etc.). Be sure that you also follow the Course Terms of Engagement though or this can cause resentment.
  • Schedule in technology breaks. When you ask your students to put away their devices, let them know that a tech break will be coming up in XXX minutes, and that’s when they’ll be able to check their email/texts/messages.

There’s no right answer to the no tech policy question. I love this question though, and I’m always happy to hear instructors ask it because it’s really asking, “How can I make learning better?” And that’s perhaps the most valuable question of all.

Maybe it involves setting limits on technology, maybe it involves creating shared parameters for tech use, or maybe it involves integrating technology in a meaningful way. Regardless of the answer, the question is a critical one to ask yourself and to consider. You are guaranteed to see devices in your classroom in some way, why not make a plan for it?

If you want to discuss using technology in the classroom, or to learn more about the available educational technologies on campus, email us at or call us for an appointment at extension 4433.

Related readings