It’s a familiar scene: you spend hours planning lecture content and updating your slide deck, hoping that this semester’s students will be more attentive and engaged than the last group. You dive into the topic with zest and, as you click to the next slide, you look up only to discover that the majority of your students are looking down, despite you telling them to not use technology in the classroom. 

They’re captivated—but not by your lecture. Instead, they’re engaged with their smartphones, laptops and tablets, reading a text from a friend, smiling at a YouTube video or checking Facebook.

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This is the reality for professors across the globe. In a recent survey of more than 21,000 post-secondary educators, the biggest teaching challenge identified was students not paying attention or participating in class.

While it might be tempting to try reducing or eliminating technology use in class to increase engagement, it’s a losing battle: The latest stats reveal that the majority of college students own a smartphone and report using it up to 11 times a day in class.

There’s little hope to reverse such habits, so it’s time for attitudes and perspectives to shift. Here are three reasons why it’s critical to embrace technology in your classroom.

Read more about how to reach distracted students in our free e-book.

Your Students Aren’t Giving You a Choice

It’s always been important for educators to figure out how their students learn, and adjust their methods accordingly. Think Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams’ character uses emotion and physical action to spark an interest in poetry. Today’s profs face a new challenge: Generation Z, whose sweet spot happens to be technology.

Generation Z, who follow on the heels of Millennials, was born in the mid- to late-1990s and later. It’s the first generation that’s grown up using the internet from a young age, and they lead the majority of their social lives online. Their average attention span is about eight seconds and, in one study, 79 percent of Gen Z’ers demonstrated emotional distress when separated from their mobile devices.

These are your current and future students. They’ve never known a world without the internet and own multiple devices that serve as extensions of themselves. They use technology to access life’s necessities: food, clothes, travel and communication. Why shouldn’t it also unlock the door to a more engaging, improved post-secondary education? Professors that accept the unbreakable bond between students and technology will be able to leverage it more effectively to increase engagement.

It’s an Opportunity to Lead the Charge Toward Improved Learning

As pervasive as technology is in our day-to-day lives, post-secondary institutions continue to push against it. One instructor notes that the texting, tweeting, and Snapchatting during class time creates an incredible distraction, and makes it much more difficult to teach. It’s pretty hard to compete with a very funny YouTube video.”

But what if this overt social networking during class is happening because students just haven’t been given access to engaging, educational course content on their devices? The use of learning technology in higher education isn’t where it should be; one 2015 study found that only 37 percent of instructors incorporate mobile technology into coursework, while 55 percent attempt to ban or overtly discourage mobile device use in the classroom.

We’ve reached the tipping point: professors are frustrated by distracted students on phones and laptops, and students are tired of the one-way lecture format that uses older technologies, citing “death by PowerPoint” as a cause for lagging attention spans in class.

Students recognize the benefits of using mobile devices or apps for educational purposes, saying that it makes it easier to access coursework, facilitates better communication with fellow students and professors, and improves work quality and motivation in class.

Add to this the reality that 82 percent of professors self-identify as tech savvy  and consider themselves early adopters of new technology, and you’ve got an environment that’s ripe to displace the current teaching model. It’s time for post-secondary instructors to start challenging the status quo by adopting higher education software to enhance the learning experience and capture the attention of the elusive Generation Z.  

It Will Make You a Better Teacher

Professors feel most successful when they witness improvements among their pupils, but there’s more to performance metrics than class average. To accurately track whether teaching methods are successful, instructors must measure everything that comes before the final grade, including weekly attendance and student engagement.

This sounds great in theory, but tracking on this level can be manual and time-consuming, so it often gets sacrificed in favor of more pressing tasks like lecture preparation. This is where technology could come in. Currently only about 20 percent of professors use attendance-taking tools, and even fewer (13 percent) are using polling apps to engage students.

Introducing comprehensive software with the right features into the teaching environment carries the dual benefit of streamlining administrative tasks to increase a professor’s productivity, while fostering teaching methods that are more engaging and aligned with Generation Z’s habits and expectations. This ultimately gives professors more free time for measuring results and planning future course work, while empowering students to participate and learn using technology they already have in their hands.

Embracing technology in the classroom means that you understand your audience, are willing to lead innovation in teaching and are committed to improving how you do your job. If you’re among the 56 percent of professors who admit to checking their rating on RateMyProfessor.com, embrace tech in the classroom and you might just see your rating soar.

As cellphones and laptops become part of classroom life, learn easy techniques that can put them to work in your teaching.

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Lauren Triance-Haldane

Lauren Triance-Haldane