29 Jul 2015 20:11 IST

Retaining classroom attention in the smartphone age

Arun Pereira, Associate Professor at ISB, cracks the code — with technology

When a student walks into a classroom with a smartphone and a laptop — and could potentially have on him/her varying degrees of wearable technology like smart watches and glasses — how does a lecturer retain the attention of the student, or, to use a word that MBA profs love, “engage” the student, in the lecture?

“Technology,” feels Arun Pereira, a Clinical Associate Professor at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, “is here to stay. Don’t ban the devices, but embrace them; use them to your advantage to aid continuous assessment and get teaching insights.”

Tech for tech

And he has demonstrated the effectiveness of software solutions for the commonest of teachers’ problems in a short video displayed at the Indian Management Conclave, 2015, held at ISB, Hyderabad. The biggest challenges that teachers face, he claims, are students coming unprepared, not being engaged in class, seeking ‘air time’ and not adding anything productive to the discussion, and the difficulty of grading their participation.

Software is the answer

Simple pieces of software that Arun uses in his courses solve most of these issues. Whenever he gives students reading material, such as online texts, a short question pops up right after the student reaches a specific point in the document. He/she would then be asked to answer the question in a short sentence and once he/she does so, the answer is sent to Arun’s email. This way, he can keep track of how many students read the study material and how many progressed beyond the abstract.

This even works for video clips that students are required to watch as preparation for the forthcoming lecture. The questions embedded at specific points in the video force the student to think about the contents. Hence, most students are well-prepared for the class and the statistics of who skipped which part, can be curated.

“Power up, don’t switch off”

Whenever students walk into his class, Arun asks them to power up their mobile phones and connect to the WiFi. Whenever the class reaches a strategic point in the discussion, he pauses, and sends out a question that then appears on their mobile devices.

The class is then given two minutes to freely discuss the question, and then asked to type in a one-sentence answer. Who answers the question, what he/she says, and how quickly he/she says it, are all recorded. Arun then proceeds to choose the response that he feels will best move the discussion forward, and asks the student to explain his opinion. Then the class votes to agree or disagree with the student’s opinion, with the best attacks and defences being voiced out loud.


This is a three-in-one problem solver, Arun claims: it makes sure student distraction is minimised; ensures that discussions don’t go off track; and gives teachers concrete data to look back on, to grade the classroom or themselves.

The participants of the conclave, mostly B-School teachers themselves, had mixed reactions to this, but mostly leaned towards embracing technology. Pereira also added a note of warning towards the end, cautioning against overenthusiastic measures turning ‘Big Brother’-ish.

The writer is an M.Sc (Tech) fourth-year student at the BITS Pilani, Hyderabad campus