Digital classroom management ideas for minds-on learning

Digital classroom management ideas for minds-on learning

Classrooms  — whether very traditional (above) or digital — share many of the same classroom management principles. With digital classrooms, some of those principles need a modern twist. Here are some ideas. (Flickr / Julien Harneis)

With a classroom full of computers at my disposal, there is a long list of ways students can get distracted and lose productivity.

I see browsers pointed at ESPN and prom dress websites on a regular basis.

There’s newstudyhall, a site with 100+ mindless games to fritter time away.

If iPads are the device of choice in your classroom, you’ve probably seen Flappy Bird or an array of knock-off games.

Even when students are on-task, there are plenty of inappropriate things they could type or do to derail class.

A very common question I hear at conferences is: “How do you manage students? Keep them on task? Keep them from doing inappropriate things?”

My answer lacks the “silver bullet” flash that they’re probably looking for, but it cuts to the heart of the matter.

Classroom management in the digital environment is much like classroom management in the traditional environment.

I treat my online spaces — blogs, our class website, student-created documents or drawings or presentations — like the paper and pencil ones of decades and centuries before.

If they type something in a backchannel or a blog post (or anything else that’s published immediately), it’s treated just like they’re saying it out loud in front of class.

If it’s part of a file or any other work that’s turned in, it’s just like putting a paper in my old tray of papers to grade (which I still have … buried in a closet somewhere).

Classroom management is classroom management. Kind of like how good solid pedagogy is good solid pedagogy.

Doesn’t matter whether you’re deep in the digital realm or in a traditional class that looks like the kind that have dominated classrooms for more than a century.

Despite that, there are still some maxims that I hold on to to keep my students on task and in bounds:

Circulate frequently. I probably look like I’m walking laps trying to burn calories when my students are working. My classroom is in a U shape with an inner U and an outer U. I’ll walk the inner U, then the outer U, then repeat. Over and over. I like to be close to my students, and I like for them to know that I’m paying attention. If you want to watch from your desk, however, there are several options. My school uses the free version of LanSchool, which allows the teacher’s computer to monitor what’s going on at all of the student workstations.

Be inquisitive. As I work my laps around the classroom, I like to stop and make observations. And ask questions. When I do this, I’m not giving pop quizzes and hovering to make sure they’re being good (although, in a round-about way, I really am!). If someone writes something funny in a story, I’ll stop and chuckle. If a student handles a tricky sentence deftly, I’ll stop and praise. I try to keep my observations positive.

Develop relationships and show respect. I work with high school students, and respect is huge for them. If they feel that you’re belittling them or acting better than them, some will do everything in their power to make your life miserable. I try to start at the beginning of the year — at the beginning of the period at the door — to “grease the wheel” and make life easier and happier for everyone. If I have laid the foundation early, I’ve found that it shows in the day-to-day activities.

Set mini-deadlines. When my students work on a longer-term project, I’ll often set smaller, short-term benchmarks to keep them on task. When my students are given several days, an entire week or longer to work, many see all of that time and feel no desire to get work accomplished quickly to avoid miscues or delays. When they have smaller deadlines — that have bearing on their final project grade — that helps.

Keep it engaging. I learned this one in education classes in college, and in this digital age it hasn’t changed: nothing helps classroom management like well-written, engaging lesson plans. If you’re creating quality lessons that are relevant to students’ lives and are challenging them, your headaches will probably be cured with much less Tylenol.

What strategies have you employed to keep students focused and appropriate in class? Share them in a comment below!

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Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

  • PowerED Up (June 2-3, Perry Central Jr/Sr High School, Leopold, Ind.)
  • Tippecanoe School Corp. technology integration workshop (June 3-4, Tippecanoe County, Ind.)
  • Infinite iPossibilities Conference (June 10, Center Grove High School, Greenwood, Ind.)
  • Knight Time Technology (June 13, East Noble High School, Kendallville, Ind.)
  • Making Waves with eLearning (June 17-18, West Lafayette High School, West Lafayette, Ind.)
  • Conference on a Couch (June 20, Danville Community High School, Danville, Ind.)
  • Digipalooza (June 24-25, Scott County School District 2, Scottsburg, Ind.)
  • Indiana Summer of eLearning conferences around Indiana (dates and locations to be announced)

Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!

  • Jennifer Tait says:

    Matt, great ideas and these are exactly what I do on a daily basis in my classroom. Our high school went 1:1 with MacBook Airs in August. Several teachers worried and felt that the students would not stay on task if they had a computer sitting in front of them at all times and even dug in heels and said they wouldn’t be using them in their classrooms.

    I have prepared my own curriculum and not used a textbook for the past 11 years. I had the privilege to teach in a computer lab and my students have used the computer for entire blocks so I was not as worried about classroom management as others. Now this isn’t to say that I haven’t had students who have been on ESPN, game websites, etc. I have found out that if you move around the room, engage the students, handle issues as they crop up, and treat the students as young adults and explain why the website, issue, etc. is inappropriate at that particular time.

    Many of our students have commented that they believe that they have become worse students due to the technology they have access to this year. We have tried to explain that whether they are 16 years old in a high school classroom or 19 or 20 years old in a college classroom they must learn to be accountable and responsible for what is on their computer and how they use their time.

    As I already think about next year in my classroom, I know that I will continue “pacing” in my classroom during classes and doing all that I have done this year with a roomful of computers and students. I, also, know that I will add a few more lessons on being responsible and accountable technology users. These may only be 10 minute lessons but they are lessons and discussions that need to take place for my young adults to be responsible and accountable post-secondary students.

    • Hi Jennifer! I’ve heard things like that, that students are becoming worse students with all the technology available. I’m amazed by that because technology is just a tool, and that tool can be used for good or bad. It’s like saying that people are worse carpenters because they have circular saws and drills. You can make sloppy furniture — or really nice furniture — with either one. I think people who think technology is the doom of education are just looking for excuses.

      Those 10-minute lessons on responsible/accountable technology use may be some of the most important ones they learn — and they probably wouldn’t learn them anywhere else! Stick with them … they’re crucial!

  • Keith says:

    Matt you hit it right on the head. Sound pedagogy is even more important when tech is introduced to the lessons.