Pedagogical Innovation: towards device-free classrooms?

In 2019, Sciences Po hosted the 4th edition of the International Seminar on Undergraduate Studies with deans and provosts of multiple partner universities, including Oxford University, Columbia University, Ashesi University, University of Maastricht, UC Berkeley, Princeton University and more.

This past year, in France, the Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer introduced a blanket ban on all internet-connected devices for school children between the ages of 3 and 15. According to recent studies, this innovative tech-ban actually increases academic performance amongst students. The Californian state has also followed suit by introducing similar measures to restrict and, in some cases, ban such devices in schools.

Furthermore, in the United States, tech-free zones are increasingly becoming a symbol of wealth and status. Rich parents ban their children from playing with smartphones or other such devices, favouring physical toys and human interaction. It is precisely this human contact which is becoming the real “innovation” of the moment. Whilst the wealthy have the purchasing power to buy the luxury of human attention, it is the financially disadvantaged who are developing greater technological dependence.

A schism is thus being created, in ways never seen before, by the technological revolution. It is perhaps by making educational spaces device-free that we can at least make learning a more level-playing field. Such topics were high on the agenda at the International Seminar on Undergraduate Studies; subjects of debate included classroom teaching and innovation, device-free classes, group work, and student welfare and well-being.

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Sciences Po has already successfully introduced a number of “device-free classes”. Students found that concentration, participation and interaction greatly improved in these types of courses, and stated that they get more out of “device-free classes” than ones in which devices are permitted. A “device-free class” logo now appears in the syllabus next to the course description so that students are aware before registering for the course, and "opt in" to take a class in which the use of devices will be not be permitted.

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