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Professors Banning Laptops In the Lecture Hall 664

Posted by kdawson
from the read-my-lips dept.
Pickens writes "The Washington Post reports that professors have banned laptops from their classrooms at George Washington University, American University, the College of William and Mary, and the University of Virginia, among many others, compelling students to take notes the way their parents did: on paper. A generation ago, academia embraced the laptop as the most welcome classroom innovation since the ballpoint pen, but during the past decade it has evolved into a powerful distraction as wireless Internet connections tempt students away from note-typing to e-mail, blogs, YouTube videos, sports scores, even online gaming. Even when used as glorified typewriters, laptops can turn students into witless stenographers, typing a lecture verbatim without listening or understanding. 'The breaking point for me was when I asked a student to comment on an issue, and he said, "Wait a minute, I want to open my computer,"' says David Goldfrank, a Georgetown history professor. 'And I told him, "I don't want to know what's in your computer. I want to know what's in your head."' Some students don't agree with the ban. A student wrote in the University of Denver's newspaper: 'The fact that some students misuse technology is no reason to ban it. After all, how many professors ban pens and notebooks after noticing students doodling in the margins?'"
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Professors Banning Laptops In the Lecture Hall

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  • False analogy. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by samurphy21 (193736) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:16AM (#31425058) Homepage

    Doodling with pen and paper doesn't absorb the attention to the same degree as playing Facebook games and chatting with friends via IM.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:18AM (#31425076)
      And remember, no margin, no Fermat's Last Theorem!
    • by dwarfsoft (461760) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:18AM (#31425078) Homepage

      Yeah, he should have gone with a car analogy instead...

    • Maybe the manufacturers should add an extra digitizer to the notebooks for doodling or just add this feature to a bigger touchpad. Off course, a doodle application and a touchscreen would do the trick as well.
    • Re:False analogy. (Score:4, Informative)

      by theIsovist (1348209) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:39AM (#31425216)
      Also, the doodles may also be related to what is actually being taught and may be of use. I have many a drawing of monkeys attached to strings, in trees being shot by a hunter at X angle below. it's a lesson in motion, partially elastic colisions and pendular motion.
    • Re:False analogy. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:40AM (#31425224) Journal
      Perhaps more importantly, doodling isn't nearly as distracting for those around you as video/gaming/whatever(and yes, I have seen "whatever" to include "porn").

      Frankly, it isn't my problem what you are or aren't learning in class. It's either your money, in which case it is your problem; or your parent's money, in which case they can always scream at you or cut you off. If you are going to be doing substantially distracting things in the same class where I am trying to learn, though, you've just made it my problem.

      When you take a primate whose visual system has been shaped by millenia of evolution in an environment where every movement in the corner of your eye is either dinner or about to make you dinner, and put them a few rows back in a class full of screens showing moving images, their attention is going to suffer, whether they like it or not.
    • by dkf (304284)

      Doodling with pen and paper doesn't absorb the attention to the same degree as playing Facebook games and chatting with friends via IM.

      Making paper planes out of the notes and throwing them at the lecturer does absorb the attention a lot. But at least it made Analytical Chemistry fun!

    • Re:False analogy. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:54AM (#31425416) Homepage Journal

      Hell, when I was in college you could SMOKE in class, and they never banned slide rules. I never took notes myself; I can't scribble as fast as the professor can talk, can't read my own scribbling later, and taking notes took my attention away from what the teacher was saying.

      If there were diagrams on the blackboard, I'd scribble those down after class, unless they were replicated in the textbook, and if the teacher said "write this down" then I'd write it down.

      The instructor's role is to better explain what's in the textbook, and discuss things that weren't in the book. If I was in school today I might use a notebook as a speech recorder (lots of students then used tape), but a notebook ban wouldn't bother me, I can record on my phone as easily as on a notebook.

      Do professors still party with their students at after school functions? In a lot of ways you guys have it better than I did, but in a lot of other was we had it better. College was some of the best times of my life. Especially the Mississippi River Festival. Maybe I'll journal about that, it was awesome.

      • Re:False analogy. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ukab the Great (87152) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:34AM (#31425848)

        I'm guessing that when you were in college getting a somewhat less menial job that pays somewhat more than minimum wage didn't depend on having a college degree and the folks who did go to college were actually interested in learning (I don't know this for sure. I wasn't around then).

        I think a lot of people today go to class just so they can attain that job-hunting license that offers the prospect of not flipping burgers and eating ramen noodles for 30 years.

        • Re:False analogy. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by spxero (782496) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @10:07AM (#31426270) Journal
          I echo your sentiment. My wife has recently gone back to school (she already has a 4 year degree in "business") to pursue a different career path. She continually comes home from class lamenting at the youth in her class that just don't get it. Not understanding the material is one thing, but not even trying to understand the material and then coming into class at the end of the semester asking for extra credit options is common in her new degree path of Early Childhood Development. In her opinion, they would be better off going and getting a job than wasting everybody's time since they are obviously not there to learn.

          When the person who does the assignments, understands the material, and does pretty good on the tests pulls a 105+% in the class, something is wrong.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by rtb61 (674572)

            The current school generation does have a harder time maintaining focus upon a single subject. I have noticed that notebooks brought into lectures are not always used for taking notes and more often than note are used for, playing games, social networking, working on assignments for other subjects and, doing tutes (about 1 in ten are logged into the school network and have one window open on the lecture presentation notes, reference material mentioned and another window for notes) . The biggest note takers

        • Re:False analogy. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by cgenman (325138) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @10:18AM (#31426438) Homepage

          I'm rather shocked to be back in Grad School, and to see that everyone is here (without fail) to change careers. The people in my curriculum have zero experience and zero prior study in the field, they just didn't like the job their undergraduate degree got them. The first year of graduate school feels like a condensed version of a real undergraduate degree, for those people who probably should have read a book on this stuff before deciding to jump on the hot career.

          I was expecting to find people who loved the subject. Instead, I find people unified in their hatred of whatever else they're doing.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by apoc.famine (621563)
            I can bring a different prospective to that:

            It's been 10 years since my undergraduate degree, and I've finally found what I love. But going into a graduate program, they won't teach me the basics of it. But I can't get a bachelor's degree, because I already have one from a decade ago, and a MA from 4 years ago. Most colleges refuse to accept you for a BS after you already have one. At the same time, most graduate programs will take you, even if your BS doesn't have to do with what you're getting a PhD in.
    • Re:False analogy. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrCrassic (994046) <deprecated&ema,il> on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:37AM (#31425876) Journal

      Remember, these are the same professors who don't understand that boredom is incredibly more powerful than it appears, and that uninspired students will find other ways to zone out of boring lectures.

      • Re:False analogy. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by tehcyder (746570) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @12:04PM (#31427892) Journal

        Remember, these are the same professors who don't understand that boredom is incredibly more powerful than it appears, and that uninspired students will find other ways to zone out of boring lectures.

        No-one cares if "uninspired" students aren't interested in the lectures (although why they bother turning up in the first place is a bit of a mystery - do you get marks just for attending lectures in the US or something?).

        It's when they interfere with the people who are interested that they become a problem.

    • Re:False analogy. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by GTarrant (726871) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:44AM (#31425962)
      When I taught electrical engineering at the college level, I pointed out to students that, given the cost of tuition, and the class being X units (depending on the class) it meant that each lecture was essentially costing them (or somebody), $Y. And that given it was their $Y to spend, I didn't really care how they spent it, but that as long as they were registered for the class, it was a sunk cost, so I recommended they pay attention or try to get their money's worth the best they could.

      But, if they felt it was more worthwhile spending that $Y and skipping the class, I told them that was fine - but don't ask me for a review of the lecture afterwards. I flat-out told them if they were out late the night before and fell asleep in the class, fine (as long as they didn't snore). It was their money they were spending (or someone was spending on them) and they could get value from it, or waste it, as they saw fit.

      However, I made it quite clear that I wouldn't allow them the liberty to interfere with other student's spending of that $Y. So I was quite stern with students whose cell phones rang, and while laptops for taking notes were fine (and I didn't care about IM either, hell, I would give students a special IM account I setup to ask questions on homework as due dates crept up), movies, games, things that could easily attract eyes (because the eye is naturally drawn to motion, and bright colors can also be a distraction, it's the way we're wired) were out. Loud discussions were not acceptable - not because of me (after all, I'm paid for the students registered regardless of how many of them show up), but because other students are spending their $Y and they deserve the opportunity to use it to actually see and hear the class they're paying for. It was rarely an issue.

      If you treat people like adults, most respond in kind. Furthermore, putting it in the perspective of the money being spent by each student made some students realize why I cared about distractions - it didn't distract me, nor did it affect the money I got, nor the time I spent, but it did affect other students who had spent time and money to be there.
      • Re:False analogy. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dcollins (135727) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @11:18AM (#31427276) Homepage

        "I pointed out to students that, given the cost of tuition, and the class being X units (depending on the class) it meant that each lecture was essentially costing them (or somebody), $Y. And that given it was their $Y to spend, I didn't really care how they spent it, but that as long as they were registered for the class, it was a sunk cost, so I recommended they pay attention..."

        This is an enormously common line of thinking, but I've discovered it to be fundamentally not true (at least where I teach). I've been told that the majority of my students, for example, are on full financial aid (including health benefits & pocket money). So there's some loan they need to pay off arbitrarily far in the future, I guess (and it's safe to say that many can't rationally balance that abstract fact). And in fact they're pocketing cash on top of it, so in some sense mere attendance in my class is their current job. Changes the dynamic a lot.

        All the time when I'm telling stories my friends say, "But they're paying for it!", and I sigh and launch into my "No, they're actually not..." routine.

  • by Thyamine (531612) <<thyamine> <at> <ofdragons.com>> on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:21AM (#31425088) Homepage Journal
    I don't know what they think is happening, but I had the same thing happen with pencil and paper. Trying to keep up with some profs who are scribbling madly on the chalk/whiteboard, or just droning on and on. Stuff gets written down with little or no thought so it can be studied later. I'd be happier having it in a nice doc I can search while reading my books or through other pages of notes. They just don't like the fact that their audience isn't as mentally trapped if they are boring or unable to retain student attention.
    • by bcmm (768152) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:35AM (#31425180)
      I am dyslexic, and writing on paper at any decent speed pretty much takes my full attention, but I can type faster than most without thinking about it. I'm sure a lot of other people are like this.

      I wonder how long it will be before someone challenges this as discrimination.
    • by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:37AM (#31425204)

      I don't know about you, but myself and a few of my friends found that even though it seemed like both ways of taking notes would trigger the witless stenographer, writing by hand actually locked the information in, while computer note-taking meant you remembered little or none of it. Maybe it's just the time lag involved; in order to keep up while taking notes by hand, you have to buffer the information, reformat it to be shorter or faster to write, then commit it to paper (yes, I was a CS major, and it infects my description of non-CS related things). If you can type at the same speed the professor is providing the information, you're not forced to look for shortcuts, so you don't do any interpretation.

      Of course, the other problem is the incessant keyboard clacking. They may simply be trying to reduce the "auditory clutter" in the room. If not for loud keyboards, I couldn't care less if other students are using a computer to take notes; if I'm right and the computer is a less effective tool, that hurts them, not me.

      • by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:47AM (#31425340) Homepage

        My fiancee found that (with her profs permission, of course) having an audio recorder up close to the guy while he was going through his lecture really helped her. She would write down the general idea of what he was talking about, then later that night listen to the recording and type out more complete notes, using her written notes from class as reference. Doing it twice and hearing it twice helped her retain more.

        Granted, this won't work for everyone, but it certainly worked for her.

      • by MichaelDelving (546586) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:54AM (#31425428)
        Agree, for any HARD class. E.g., upper-level undergrad and grad-level theoretic courses in your (engineering)department/major. You scribble every last greek character in every equation from the board, in a desperate attempt to try to get down every jot of information (also verbal explanations). You read over your notes later to 'unpack' and store the knowledge, because you were writing so fast you were only using the short-short-term buffer of memory. Before the exam, you recopy your notes neatly, and then you magically can reproduce any arcane derivation on demand. And then again, years later, in preparation for the comprehensive exam.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Agree, for any HARD class. E.g., upper-level undergrad and grad-level theoretic courses in your (engineering)department/major. You scribble every last greek character in every equation from the board, in a desperate attempt to try to get down every jot of information (also verbal explanations).

          I always just sat there and paid attention, without being distracted from what the lecturer was saying by furiously writing it all down. Any decent professor (i.e., one whose ego isn't wrapped up in being the sole font of information needed to learn the class material) will have chosen a textbook that has the same general content as their lecture.

          I found it more useful to treat the lecture as a general introduction to the material, and then go and figure out the details by reading the text and doing sample

  • This is College (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rotide (1015173) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:22AM (#31425098)

    Seeing how this is college, I'm dumbfounded by the "nannying" going on here.

    The way I see it, unless laptops as a whole are distracting to _other_ students then they are nothing more than another medium to take notes on. On the other hand, if I happen to have a laptop that makes a lot of noise (intended or not) and it is distracting the professor or other students, then I see a problem.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by beakerMeep (716990)
      Indeed, the professors work for the students, not vice versa. It always perplexed me why some college profs took attendance. They are there to teach not to babysit. If some schmo wants to blow his 30 grand a year tuition playing bejeweled, what does the professor care? I mean does the professor have some high score and he's hoping to eliminate the competition for the next international bejeweled tournament? Well actually, if that's the case, I guess it's ok.
    • Exactly! You can ban laptops if you want, but it isn't going to make students pay attention if they don't feel like it. As long as they aren't distracting other students, I don't see a problem; they're paying to be there and if they want to use a laptop, that's their business.
      • Re:This is College (Score:5, Insightful)

        by starcraftsicko (647070) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:52AM (#31425394)

        As long as they aren't distracting other students...

        I think that the point here is that in many cases, they are in fact distracting other students. This doesn't mean that other students are going to make a public complaint.

        I offer this analogy: "People should be able to drive as fat as they want, wherever they want, so long as they don't endanger others." OK? But sometimes simply driving fast creates the danger. And sometimes, the driver fails to notice this. For example, I think that I don't endanger anyone when I drive 60mph through university parking lots at 9AM...

        So the university (or city or whatever) could wait for complaints or deaths, or they can regulate speeds. I concede that over-regulation occurs, but is the regulation itself unjustified?

    • Re:This is College (Score:5, Informative)

      by starcraftsicko (647070) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:39AM (#31425218)

      Unless you are in the back row, your WoW or YouTube or Facebook (or Slashdot) are a visual distraction to _others_ even with ear buds or if muted. The "nannying" happens because you (or a meaningful number of your classmates) can't keep themselves from providing this distraction. You (they?) simply can't stop. Even now.

      • by beakerMeep (716990) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:46AM (#31425326)
        You sound like Alliance.
    • by Alarindris (1253418) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:41AM (#31425248)
      I'm in a band and the one thing that really makes it hard to play well, or at least enjoy playing the show, is an unresponsive crowd.

      I could be totally off base here, but I'm guessing that the prof's need feedback too. If they see every face in the classroom looking emotionless at their laptops, the prof's have no idea if anyone is listening at all. Obviously it's the students' money to burn etc. etc. But it would probably make it hell to teach a class to essentially nobody.
      • by rotide (1015173)

        Just an FYI, lecture halls usually have 100+ students (easily) and don't go beyond some human up front talking for the _whole_ period only stopping to take a breath from time to time.

        It's not a classroom setting, it's a lecture.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Asclepius99 (1527727)
          A lot of colleges have many of your classes (especially higher level ones) in classroom settings. And while the title of the article says "Lecture Hall" the articles say "class" and "classroom"; so we're not only talking about 100+ students, we're also taking anywhere from 15+.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        I could be totally off base here, but I'm guessing that the prof's need feedback too. If they see every face in the classroom looking emotionless at their laptops, the prof's have no idea if anyone is listening at all.

        From my experience as an instructor in the Navy, you've pretty much hit the nail on the head here. You watch the students, and their body language as well as their facial expressions, to see whether they are "getting it" or not. Teaching, especially good teaching, is an interactive process.

    • by Angostura (703910) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:48AM (#31425348)

      It's madness, I know. The idea that teachers might want to think about the best way to ensure that the information they are trying to impart is absorbed and retained by their students.

      When I was a student, I found the best way to enjoy lectures was with my eyes closed, listening to my Walkman. I didn't disturb anyone, so I have no idea why the lecturer took exception to my stance.

    • Re:This is College (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bwalling (195998) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:49AM (#31425368) Homepage

      The way I see it, unless laptops as a whole are distracting to _other_ students then they are nothing more than another medium to take notes on. On the other hand, if I happen to have a laptop that makes a lot of noise (intended or not) and it is distracting the professor or other students, then I see a problem.

      I've been going back to school to get a Master's at night. It's pretty annoying that the classroom is full of kids watching TV or movies on their laptops. While I do what I can to sit near the front so that I don't have any video playing on a screen in front of me, it's not always possible. I have to leave work to get to class, so I can't just show up early enough to get in front of the TV watching idiots.

      From a purely anecdotal perspective, I'd say 60-70% of laptops in the college classroom are being used for entertainment, not note taking. At the very least, I'd like to see them confined to the back few rows of the room.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Ismene (680764)

        From a purely anecdotal perspective, I'd say 60-70% of laptops in the college classroom are being used for entertainment, not note taking. At the very least, I'd like to see them confined to the back few rows of the room.

        I'm a college librarian - I teach research classes and am always out in the computer lab section of our library. I'd venture to say that 90% of ALL computers at a college or university are being used for: Facebook and YouTube. I have students who can't get a computer to type out an essay because the computer lab is full (and I'm not even exaggerating) of students checking their facebook. (We can't ban facebook because they might need it for "educational purposes"). We get a report here that tells us essent

    • Bring the noise (Score:3, Informative)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      Ever sat next to someone on a plane who was clackity-clacking away on their keyboard for the entire flight? Well, multiply that by about 30-50 times and you'll get an idea of just how annoying a classroom full of people taking notes on the laptops can be. I wouldn't care if people used laptops, if it wasn't so fucking noisy. If they want to keep laptops in the classroom, fine, but they should require students to use some sort of quiet keyboard. The last class I was in, I just wanted to pull my hair out.
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by scross (1621251) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:23AM (#31425110)
    I bet there's someone in a lecture reading this right now.
  • good move (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nerdyalien (1182659) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:25AM (#31425122)

    I am a TA and I attended a math tutorial class as an observer earlier today. I was sitting in the last row. I saw one or two guys with laptop open, playing first-person shooting games.

    When I attended university as a freshmen 8 years ago, laptops are still clunky and not easy to carry around like netbooks. So somewhat we were forced to take down notes by hand.

    In practical lab classes like signal processing, in my day we had to manually copy the signal traces on analogue oscilloscope to the lab notebook. But now, with camera phones, its a matter of taking a snap.

    I am not against new technology. But technology that hinders the education.. should be kept outside classroom!

    • Whose education are those kids who are playing games during class, hurting?

      Yours?

      Another students?

      Who is paying for those kids to sit in the classroom?

      You?

      The professor?

      It's his money and his time. If he isn't being a distraction and hindering the education of the other students, then you really have no say, at all.

      Would he get a better education if he wasn't playing games in class? Debatable. He could just as easily waste time doodling, texting on his cell, sleeping, or just plain bunking the class to d

    • Re:good move (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kainewynd2 (821530) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:08AM (#31425594)

      I completely agree. So far the comments here are very much what I would expect. 'Let everyone learn in their own style,' 'The Professor is an egotistical twit,' 'It's the teacher's fault for not being enthralling enough,' etc.

      When it comes down to it, this isn't high school anymore and many of the topics you learn in college are NOT FUN TO LEARN. They are boring as hell, but incredibly useful. That coupled with the fact that most of the time you are half asleep and would die for something else to do and allowing a distraction like a laptop or even a cell phone becomes a really horrible idea.

      Given the option of learning about international trade routes during the 18th century or playing Unreal with my slacker friends back in the dorm and it would have been an easy choice. The kicker here is that I *loved* the class, but hated that part, regardless of how important it was to the overall class.

      Allowing me the option to fully tune out would have been a mistake, regardless of how much of a blessing it would have been at the time.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by newcastlejon (1483695)

        When it comes down to it, this isn't high school anymore and many of the topics you learn in college are NOT FUN TO LEARN. They are boring as hell, but incredibly useful. That coupled with the fact that most of the time you are half asleep and would die for something else to do and allowing a distraction like a laptop or even a cell phone becomes a really horrible idea.

        Speak for yourself! In high school I sat there bored because I was forced to learn about subjects that had neither practical nor any interest at all, I came to university and chose a subject that I found interesting. Calculus may have been dry and mechanics may have been (still is) difficult but they're both still interesting. If anything, the only part so far that has bored me has been the 'Professional Development' BS that businesses want us to learn: seems like everyone has to have the same "we're all sp

  • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:28AM (#31425136) Homepage

    Here's a thought: Instead of banning distractions, be the distraction yourself. For centuries, teachers have been competing with distractions, including daydreamers and sleepers. Laptops and the Internet are just more things to compete with. Instead, make your lectures interesting. Vary the tone of your voice, provide practical examples, and stay away from the temptation to just stand there and talk. Yes, you're a professor. Yes, students are paying to hear your ideas. No, they are not paying to just hear your voice.

    • by gsslay (807818) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:56AM (#31425448)

      College students are not kindergarten kids. Professors are not teachers.

      College learning isn't fun and games, before a five minute nap and a carton of OJ. If the students are so attention-deficit that they have difficult maintaining concentration on anything that isn't presented like a shopping channel, then perhaps they should go play and leave the college learning to the grown-ups.

      • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:31AM (#31425824) Homepage

        It'd be nice if maturity worked that way, but it doesn't. Humans in general are easily distracted, no matter how mature they are or what kind of media you're working in. Everything is a competition for attention. Whether it's a sales pitch, a lecture, or a political debate, the presenter with the most substance AND the most interesting delivery will come out the victor. Sure, it's possible for a student to force himself to pay attention, but that will just make the class seem like a hostile environment, no less than draconian rules and bullying do the same for elementary school.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by thebagel (650109)

        Professors are not teachers.

        I don't understand this mentality. Professors ARE teachers. They may not be kindergarten teachers, but the idea is the same - their job is to get ideas into your head. If that means they have to try to make things more interesting, that shouldn't be a problem. Yes, students should be paying attention. However, if professors and lecturers truly want their students to be paying attention, they need to be giving them a reason to pay attention.

  • Laptop notes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LikwidCirkel (1542097) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:31AM (#31425156)
    Laptop/tablet note taking has drastically reduced my paper load and improved the quality of my notes. If I were in any of these schools, I would take this issue as far as I possibly could.. I actually have in the past with individual professors, and I always came out the victor because there is simply no sane justification for such a policy. That said, I have a big problem with students playing games in class where I can see their screen. I've told people in the past, that if they're going to play games, at least sit in the friggin back row so no one else can see. Disruption is, and has always been a problem, but banning laptops is not the answer. I could handle blocking wi-fi in lecture theatres.. that helps just a bit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I actually have in the past with individual professors, and I always came out the victor because there is simply no sane justification for such a policy

      Consider yourself lucky that the lack of sane justification is sufficient to stop such nonsense wherever you go to school. In my experience that's rarely in the case.

      I could handle blocking wi-fi in lecture theatres.. that helps just a bit.

      For what it's worth, I've found internet access to be quite helpful in class. It's not unusual that I've forgotten something the professor assumes you've remembered. This hits me particularly hard in the autumn after a summer away from academia. When I can simply Google "taylor series" for a quick reminder and actually understand what's goi

  • by SirBigSpur (1677306) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:32AM (#31425166)
    I ran into this issue at my school and had a few professors get frustrated by students with laptops. However we talked about it in class and came to the determination that the people who are using laptops to screw around are only hurting them selves. And besides whose paying the tuition? This would be one thing if this was High school but not college.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I can tell from the way you write that your education was remarkably effective.

  • Other students (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rtmm (1697118)
    My biggest problem with those who come to lectures just to play games/chat on facebook or what have you, is that they are distracting other students. Its fine if you don't want to learn, just don't come to class. Other students paid money to come to class and generally don't want to be distracted by someone playing counterstike or watching youtube all class.
  • by bsDaemon (87307) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:34AM (#31425174)

    It's probably for the best. I sort of slagged off in my 4th semester of Latin and would just look up translations of Cicero online and have it ready if I got called on. Caesar I'd just do, but technology enabled me to be even lazier in the second semester of my Senior year than I otherwise would have been. Not that Cicero is much relevant to my actual career, although the BOFH motto seems to be 'Auc Caesar, Auc Nihil' (and if it's not, it really should be).

    That said, I didn't have a laptop at all when I was in high school, let a lone bring one to class. The first couple of years at college, I had eRacks setups in my dorm room and convinced IT to delegate me static IPs, so I could shell to my machine from anywhere else on campus, or get back in through the tunnel set up by the Comp Sci department on the Linux cluster if I were at home. I paid more attention in class back then.

    I totally get the point of the ban, and frankly in a lecture hall setting there probably isn't a real need for the laptop as opposed to a seminar or lab setting. If I were to go back to school for another degree, chances are I wouldn't bring the laptop with me to class, however if I were told I couldn't, hell yeah I'd be pissed off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jittles (1613415)

      I'm going back to school for a masters and I cant STAND the students taking notes on paper. The teacher has to repeat an important definition 5 times while they slowly scribble it down and I've typed it word for word on the first go.

      People will pay attention if they want and preventing me from being able to quickly take notes so that I can spend time actually thinking about what the teacher has to say isn't going to make my learning experience better.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DragonFodder (712772)
      Either I'm missing something in your motto, or you mis-typed..

      Auc Caesar, Auc Nihil --- In the founding of the city Ceasar, in the founding of the city nothing?

      Thinking maybe you meant to type "AUT Ceasar, AUT Nihil" which is more along the lines of "Either Ceasar or nothing" or more likely "All or nothing" roughly translated.
  • by kaptink (699820) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:36AM (#31425188) Homepage

    Student who want to use laptops legitimately should not be punished by those who don't. And as others have pointed out, students traditionally doodled or read books or slept so why should this be any different. I think some of the older lecturers are stuck in old ways which are inevitably counter productive. Laptops do more good than harm. Besides its up to the student to pass the exams and it is not the lecturers job to 'nanny' students.

  • Seems rather extreme & lacking in imagination. Maybe just cut the wifi in the lecture halls?
    However, the interesting point for me is this one:
    "I don't want to know what's in your computer. I want to know what's in your head."
    In both business and teaching situations, I've found PCs can be incredibly helpful, or the reverse.
    If everyone's 'head's down' doing their emails (typical business meeting) or facebook, (typical kids scenario) then of course there's no real communication or interaction.
    But if you u

  • Even when used as glorified typewriters, laptops can turn students into witless stenographers, typing a lecture verbatim without listening or understanding.

    Wait a second... when you're wearing your hand out scrambling to get hastily spoken lecture comments and uber complex differential equations on paper, you're spending exactly how many brain cycles actually listening or understanding?

    I did a hell of a lot better getting my master's by having my tablet RECORD what s/he was saying, while watching and compre

  • i agree (Score:4, Interesting)

    by emkyooess (1551693) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:42AM (#31425264)

    Most of my faculty lately have said, "You can bring a laptop if you ask me explicit permission and you vet your notes past me for a few weeks'." AKA, he wants to make sure they're actually using it for that purpose for the first couple weeks.

    Classes I've been in with open-laptops policy have been terrible -- I can't pay attention to the lecture because (a) all the clicking/keying around me but, more importantly, seeing (and sometimes even hearing) what they're doing. It certainly is NOT related to the class in any way. I'd see maybe one out of a dozen actually using the laptop in a decent way.

  • This sounds like another case of "jumping to solutions" and not identifying the actual problem. (You would think lecturers who were actually concerned about this problem would know better.)

    What problem are they trying to solve? Is the use of a laptop necessary and sufficient to cause a student's wandering attention? Are pencils and paper better for some reason? (And, Hey!, there may be a neurological support for that reason.) Pencil and paper notes take a different type of organizing skill; does it make sen

  • Yeah, you with the red shirt. Stop reading slashdot and pay attention to the lecture.

  • by Goldsmith (561202) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:48AM (#31425356)

    If students are able to not pay attention, and still do well (enough) in classes, then make the classes more difficult.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      If students are able to not pay attention, and still do well (enough) in classes, then make the classes more difficult.

      Two words: grade inflation.

  • Pen and paper? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jbernardo (1014507) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:52AM (#31425392)

    I can't write with pen or pencil at a decent speed, if I want to be able to read it afterwards. My handwriting is awful, always was, and no matter how much I tried to improve it always remained awful and slow. On the other hand, I am a decent, fast typist. That is why I bring my notebook to all meetings, or to any course I attend (did you think you'd stop studying after leaving college?). I can imagine what would be if I was suddenly forced to use a inferior solution just because someone abused the efficient one.

    In which century are these teachers living, btw?

  • I agree (Score:3, Interesting)

    by koan (80826) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:54AM (#31425430)

    I'm older and going back to school with a laptop taking notes in class was not working for me, I was easily distracted by either the program I was using, some technical issue, or fighting for the one power socket in the room and in the end I found I had poor recall and reviewing notes on the computer was, frankly, a drag.
    Switching to paper kept me engaged, no technical issues, easy on my eyes to review, and the information stayed with me longer.
    Not sure how it is for younger folks but paper note taking works best for me.

  • by IANAAC (692242) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:59AM (#31425482)
    When I first went to college, the only place you could find any type of computer was in the lab, so taking notes by hand in a spiral-bound was the only option.

    I went back to school 20 years later to get another degree, Tried taking notes on a laptop and went back to simple handwritten notes. Here's why: I found that I retained much more when I went back over my handwritten notes, then reorganized them on my laptop. Yes, it was more time-consuming, but I was effectively going over all the information twice and reinforcing what was taught. I was also keeping up my handwriting skills, something I believe is sorely lacking in today's youth.

    I wonder how many students today just enter their notes on a laptop and forget about them until finals.

  • by ENIGMAwastaken (932558) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:13AM (#31425650)
    I see a lot of people commenting on how fast they need to type/write in order to take notes. I find this a little odd, because if you're taking down more information than you can easily handwrite, you're probably not taking notes properly in the first place.

    The point of taking notes is to compress the information into a salient outline structure and then insert only the most important information. Just copying, verbatim, what a professor says isn't, in any real sense, "note taking". Note taking implies that you're selectively recording the parts of what the professor is saying that are most important. Just copying down everything is something else entirely, and is dreadfully inefficient, first because you can easily get the jist of what someone says without recording their exact wording, and second because it makes reviewing the notes mostly a waste of time.
  • They are right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gweihir (88907) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:13AM (#31425654)

    Taking notes on paper in real-time was the most valuable learning method during my studies. It forces you to understand what the lecturer is explaining, because you are typically to slow to copy verbatim, you you have to accurately summarize. Yes, it is stressful, but it is effort well spent.

  • by realsilly (186931) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:23AM (#31425746)

    The problem or problems with laptops is that they are distracting. Even if someone is truely typing notes and doing it in a way that summarizes the lecture, for other people sitting near, seeing a display screen or hearing clicking can be vastly distracting.

    While it is true, people learn in different ways, people need to be able to learn with out a monitor in their face. I fear one reason that students are opposed to this is simply because they don't know how to write using pen and paper. It has been stated in past Slashdot articles that the art of writing is dying. The thing about writing that people don't get today is that because we write slower than we listen, we force ourselves to remember what the professors said. If we miss what was stated, we asked for the statement to be revistied or repeated, thus adding to the natural way people learn and comprehend.

    Some other posted suggested that the professor give the students the notes, well I almost spit my coffee out when I read that. Does not every class have a book that goes with it? I know I had a book for each class I took in college. Students are already expected to read before coming to class, and I suspect the majority of students rarely crack the books before the lessons, but rather only to cram for the exams.

    College isn't about making your life easy. It is a place for higher education. It is a place for one to challenge themselves to learn and take in all this wonderful new information. Classroom discussions with professors are the ones students most remember and are very informative when people get involved. The purpose these professors have in mind is for students to interact more. Teaching isn't about spewing out a bunch of notest to students it is about exciting them and teaching them and prompting them to think outside of the box and explore the subject matter at hand.

    Close those notebooks and listen. You'll be amazed at how much more you'll comprehend and take in, I promise....

  • by illumnatLA (820383) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:35AM (#31425856) Homepage
    20-some years ago, I started my bachelor's degree at Ohio University. I ended up in Los Angeles working in the film & TV business as an editor where they really don't care if you have a degree or not.

    Fast forward to now... Economy crash, writers' strike, production slow down... so I decide use that as an opportunity to return to college to finally finish a bachelor's degree in Visual Effects.

    The classes are held in computer labs and because the systems are used for many different kinds of classes including web design and as generic open labs, they are connected to the internet.

    There is nothing as annoying and distracting as someone sitting there working on their Farmville while the instructor is lecturing or while we are supposedly critiquing each others work. It leads to the instructor having to go over simple concepts multiple times due to students not paying attention which really pisses me off as it's wasting my time & money... Mommy & daddy aren't paying for my college classes... I am. We have a limited amount of time as it is... I want to get my money's worth by getting in as many concepts as possible--nott going over the same thing over and over and over because some idiot was tending to his crops.

    Now chances are, these idiots who aren't paying attention in class would've found ways to not pay attention in class back in the pre-WiFi internet days, but for the most part, they would've been less distracting to other students who did want to pay attention. (They'd be doodling in a notebook or just sleeping.) If they were doing something that was distracting to other students, it would be much easier for an instructor to monitor and deal with... 'Take those headphones off,' 'stop talking back there,' etc.

    These days, the instructor has a bunch of laptop lids pointed in their direction and the students could be doing anything from dutifully taking notes to running their virtual mob to reading Slashdot.

    The point I'm eventually getting around to making is that these sorts of distractions that having full internet access in the classroom causes is unfair to the students who do want to pay attention.

    I really don't give a shit if someone wants to waste their time and (parents') money by not paying attention in the classroom... but I get royally pissed when it wastes my time and my money.

    Personally, if I was teaching I would have a policy in place where first time caught on the internet during a lecture or critique would get a warning, second time... auto fail.

    But... I digress...
  • by bradley13 (1118935) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @09:50AM (#31426050) Homepage

    I'm also a prof, and here's my take on it... I give lectures in a couple of different majors. The CS students all bring their laptops, the business students never do, and there are some some classes in between.

    First off, I do not require attendance. In fact, I usually explicitly say: "if you want to read your email, play games, etc, please do not come to class". If you're in my class, I want you there because you intend to pay attention to the lecture.

    Alarindris (in an earlier post) made a really good point: to make a lecture interesting, you need to be able to interact with the class. If everyone is heads down in their laptops, and asking them a question causes them to look up with an expression of "huh? what's going on?" - well, there is just no way to make the lecture work. Over the years, I have had a couple of groups like this - it is really, really awful.

    Regarding note-taking: I have never seen a student take notes on a computer. Mostly they load up the slides I've provided (which contain some, but not nearly all of the content). What goes up on the board is developed interactively with the class, and inevitably involves pictures and diagrams - there is just no reasonable way to take notes like that on the computer.

    A few students complain that I don't provide complete material to download - thus making note taking unnecessary. These are the same students who expect to be handed an "A" on the final, without actually having to study or do anything difficult. The point of a lecture is for the professor to ensure that the students understand a topic. The material presented changes based on feedback from the class. "Is that clear, or do we need another example here?" If another example, or an alternative explanation is needed, you make one up on the spot. You go faster or slower, show more or less detail, use fewer or more examples based on the students' comprehension of what you are talking about.

    If you find yourself talking to the tops of everyone's heads, you have no source of feedback. Did they understand? Are they even listening? One poster on this thread said that it's the prof's own fault if the students aren't interested. The other side is: if the students don't give any feedback, the lecture is guaranteed to be boring - because there is no way to tailor the presentation to the audience.

    If you have a really horrible prof (yes, I know some of those), don't take the class. If you have to take the class, save yourself the boredom and don't go to lectures. If attendance is required, life's a bitch, deal with it. Consider it practice for those really exciting business meetings you'll be attending throughout your professional life: if you don't pay attention when the boss is talking, you'll be walking.

    All of which is a long way of saying: laptops in lectures are really pretty useless for the students. I wouldn't bother to ban them - too much fuss - but I can and do ban any sort of distracting activities.

  • Fail (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GerryHattrick (1037764) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @10:00AM (#31426178)
    If you give the sort of 'lecture' where notes on a laptop (or even in pencil) are an adequate result, you don't deserve your Chair. A proper lecture motivates, enthuses, explains, gives insights into creativity - no notes can ever do justice to that. So: no laptops please, nor... lecturers backs turned while they fill space with impenetrable garbled equations. You can get that stuff in your own time from standard references. On the topic, I want(ed) to know what makes that particular Professor tick. The best of them used eye-contact - to a girl at the top-back of the lecture-theater: "do you like being alone?"
  • by 2obvious4u (871996) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @11:36AM (#31427482)
    The most successful person I've ever known, my father, told me the secret to good grades in school. He would take a tape recorder to class and record the lecture, then after class he would go home and transcribe the notes. He was amazed how much he would miss during the lecture. The other students in his class would complain at test time that the professor never covered the material, but my father always had the answers. There were there in his transcriptions.

    When I went to college I attempted this method, but I didn't have the stamina. I ended up with a B/C average when I graduated, but I had a lot of fun. I'm not making seven figures like he does, hell I'm not even earning six figures yet. So was having no social life worth the seven figure salary? Definitely, but how to you train yourself to have that level of self discipline?

    The reason transcribing works so well is that during the lecture you miss a large percentage of the material to distractions, then on top of that you only remember a fraction of that. By transcribing the lecture you get exposed at least once to 100% of the material covered, then you can re-enforce what you've covered later when you review the transcripts.
  • by jdbuz (962721) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @01:51PM (#31429232)
    I've been out of academia since '95 but back then professors wrote on the board (with the occasional overhead graph) and students wrote on paper. My girlfriend recently went back to school and almost every class is taught by powerpoint presentation which nearly begs the students to bring in their laptops. If you want to ban the laptop then ban the lazy practice of teaching by powerpoint.

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