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Education Portables

Should Colleges Ban Classroom Laptop Use? 804

theodp writes "If you were a college prof, think you could successfully compete for the attention of a lecture hall of Mac-packing students? CS student Carolyn blogs that a debate has sprung up on her campus about whether it is acceptable to use a laptop in class. And her school is hardly alone when it comes to struggling with appropriate in-classroom laptop use (vendor/corporate trainers would no doubt commiserate). The problem, she says, is that the OCD Facebookers aren't just devaluing their own education — there's a certain distraction factor to worry about. 'Students,' she suggests, 'should also communicate with each other more and tell their classmates when their computer use bothers them. I'll admit it, when I'm trying to pay attention to the lecture, even someone's screensaver in the row ahead of me can be a major distraction.'"
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Should Colleges Ban Classroom Laptop Use?

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  • by Afforess ( 1310263 ) <> on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:04AM (#34708280) Journal
    College is a choice, if students decide to squander it, banning laptops won't fix it.

    Besides, they'd just pull out their iPhones then. ;)
    • by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Thursday December 30, 2010 @09:55AM (#34709920) Homepage

      That was my initial reaction until I read the part about it being a distraction to other students (eg, a screensaver, someone playing a game, etc).

      I don't think banning laptops is the way to approach that, there's a lot of value for students who use their laptops well. And I agree with you, college is a good opportunity for teenager-cum-adults to have the freedom to make their own decisions in an environment which helps them to measure themselves (eg, they can see their grades slipping). So for the student who wants to waste class time by doing something else, that's their decision, so long as they're not taking down others with them.

      If anything needs to be done, it should take the form of TA's who approach distracting kids and ask them to at least sit in the back of the room when not fully engaged in classwork (or ask them to do things like switch to an unobtrusive screensaver if they're not actively using the laptop, etc). Students who have difficulty with being distracted can make it a point to try to sit in the front of the room so there's less opportunity for distraction in front of them.

      It's possible some students don't realize they're being a distraction, so the mere act of the professor mentioning at the start of the class some basic laptop use etiquette might by itself go a long way:

      1. Please silence your laptops and cell phones
      2. Please disable your screensaver or set it to a blank screen
      3. If you are going to do anything on your laptop which is not related to the classwork, please sit toward the back of the room
    • by Frankie70 ( 803801 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @11:23AM (#34710892)

      Read an article about teaching in Iraq - how different it is from teaching in USA. []

  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:05AM (#34708284) Homepage

    It all depends on what is done in the classroom if a laptop (or other device) can be used or not.

    During some laborations the use of a laptop can be good since it allows the students to have a location where to make notes and share them, but in other cases it may be a distraction instead. Don't forget the information overload factor - education is often about how to come to a conclusion yourself, not to draw on other people's conclusions.

  • by Haedrian ( 1676506 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:05AM (#34708286)

    I type all my university notes. I'm able to work faster than if I was writing, can research if I didn't understand something, can format it into an understandable piece.

    Yes you get distracted. But you know what I do when I have paper and I'm bored ? I doodle or daydream. You're still going to do something else to pass the time. If you can't stay attentive, stop bringing it yourself. There's no need to remove it for everyone else.

    • by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @12:16PM (#34711558)

      As a professor I can tell you that I don't care if you doodle or daydream. I don't honestly even care if you come to class. But if you do choose to come to my class I want you to at least conceal your inattentiveness, in the same way I would expect you not to take a phone call during a theatrical performance or even a movie I've paid to attend.

      The problem with Internet-connected laptop users is that some are very bad at this. In the same way that it's possible to use a mobile phone in a non-distracting way, it's possible to use a laptop appropriately. But many don't. And it's distracting to see someone engrossed in a screen or vigorously typing away in a manner that's obviously disconnected from the course itself. Worse is obvious IMing between students in the same class, which is distracting and intimidating to students who ask questions or actually participate in the discussion.

      I work hard to prepare my courses and get consistently high student reviews. But a lot of the energy in the class comes from the students, and distractions like this work like a control rod in an atomic pile. Believe me, everyone gets a worse experience.

      It's particularly hard because I teach Master's students at a decent university. These are adults, mind you, people who are supposed to know these things. They're people who probably wouldn't take a phone call in a theatre, but for some reason they have no sense of etiquette when a laptop is involved. Worse, it's hard to scold adults and nobody else in the class wants to do it.

      These aren't bad people. I understand the temptation of having a laptop in front of you, you just want to check that email. But it really does hurt the class experience. I don't want to ban laptops, and honestly I don't want to be a dick. But I wish to god I could disable Wifi at the AP. Unfortunately University IT controls it and they wouldn't be thrilled.

  • Yes, you are right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harmonise ( 1484057 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:15AM (#34708316)

    Yes, let's ban a useful tool because some people are too meek to ask others to stop doing distracting things with their laptops. [rolls eyes] When did people become so afraid? Is it really that hard to respectfully ask someone to change their behavior so as not to disturb others? Are we to ban a useful technology in the classroom because of a handful of bozos?

    • Thing is that they shouldn't have to ask. They've paid for the class and shouldn't have to ask that others stop distracting them. It's common courtesy that you not do things which distract others from learning.
    • by femtoguy ( 751223 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @12:03PM (#34711376)

      As a professor who deals with this daily, I can tell you my opinion. I teach honors freshman chemistry with 60-80 students in my class. In the last 4 years I haven't had a single student who uses a laptop in class get an 'A' grade in my class. Most of them have ended up underperforming on tests, and then blaming my teaching for their failure to work up to their potential. This is anecdotal, but by the time I get to a few hundred students, it starts to look statistical. In an interesting real statistical development, we did a study in our large GE physical science class about the use of technology. We teach 8 section of the class each semester with identical homework and tests in all sections. We compared performance on tests between sections with teachers that pre-published powerpoint slides and teachers that didn't. Students statistically significantly worse in the sections where they had access to the powerpoint slides. When I poll my students they all tell me how much of an advantage it would be to have them, but it turns out that what they think will help them is not what will help them. We have passed our research on to the business school which requires students to have laptops, and faculty to pre-publish slides (because that is how the business world works) but they aren't interested in knowing.

  • I suffer from hyper mobility in my fingers, if I wasn't allowed to use my laptop to type my notes I would have quickly fallen far behind as my writing speed is horrendous and painful.

    They shouldn't assume that laptops act as a distraction to everybody, if a computer in front of someone else is a distraction to you then you're clearly looking for a distraction and just need something to blame.

  • I spent my undergraduate years at an American university and then moved to Europe for the remainder of my academic years. Imagine how happy I was to find that here lectures are not obligatory -- the exams are rigorous, the expectations clearly laid out in a syllabus, and you're welcome to study on your own and show up on the last day of the course and show your knowledge. While some fields may actually impart useful knowledge through lectures, in so many fields one can get the same information from books.

    So why not just make lectures optional? The students who are likely to simply surf the net can be absent, while those who come will probably want to be there.

  • Try this. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by migla ( 1099771 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:18AM (#34708340)

    "[W]hen I'm trying to pay attention to the lecture, even someone's screensaver in the row ahead of me can be a major distraction."

    How about having the ones with laptops sitting in the back or the ones distracted sitting in front (perhaps depending on whichever is the larger group).

  • Wouldn't it make more sense to remove the class than the computer?

    Put the teacher inside the screen and let the students decide where and when they want to study. Those who aren't able to manage the responsability will fail, as they should.

    It's time to start treating people as adults and also to demand to be treated as such.

  • What kind of a retarded question is that? Banning classroom use of silly text books and writing on paper is what should be getting banned.

  • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:24AM (#34708364)

    I'm a little mixed on the topic. I've had horrible handwriting since I was a kid. But I had an excellent memory. Something I learned in middle school and high school was I had a choice: I could either take notes, to which I could read very little of if I went back later, or I could pay attention to the lecture and retain more of it. The exceptions were math/physics. Those classes I had to take notes as I'd understand the material in class, but if I went to do homework later that night or the next night, I wouldn't remember the finer points.

    I had a laptop in college, rarely used it for note taking in class. Once again, for most classes I could take notes (paper or computer) or listen and learn the lecture. Again the exception being classes that were math intensive or subjects like Econ where drawing graphs were kinda hard on a computer.

    That changed, however, when I was in Law School. There having a laptop was almost a must and a useful tool. I had hard copies of the texts, but also CD-rom's of the case law and the particular program made it extremely easy to highlight text and leave margin notes on the computer. Extremely useful when you're reading 300 pages a night and then needed to make references the next day in class. I'm not sure if I would have survived 1L with out those notes on the computer.

    But I wasn't using it to *take* notes in class as much as search/recall information already stored from the night/day before.

  • Kill the laptops!

    College was fine before the laptop was invented.

  • by Interoperable ( 1651953 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:26AM (#34708368)

    Students will be a lot less likely to be using Facebook in a class if it's their second time through.

  • Banning laptops in class would infringe on students' rights to attempt first post on every slashdot story! We can't let the trolls win! You aren't a troll sympathiser, are you?

  • Distractions (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Macrat ( 638047 )

    I'll admit it, when I'm trying to pay attention to the lecture, even someone's screensaver in the row ahead of me can be a major distraction.

    Usually the hot girl in the short chick distracts me. Not someone's computer.

  • Laptop use during lectures seems pretty essential for taking notes. Duh?

  • Would be to record the lecture, preferably with a small video camera, but audio in many cases is sufficient when combined with written notes. The laptop can be saved for later use, and the student can have a conversation with the Prof. to make video notes and lecture content available for the class as extra credit. Good for grades, no distraction, and you can use the laptop where it will actually do some good. The last thing we need is to make things harder for our attention deficit progeny.

  • I'll admit it, when I'm trying to pay attention to the lecture, even someone's screensaver in the row ahead of me can be a major distraction.

    Computers are boring. The hot girl in the short skirt is a major distraction.

  • Laptop use during lectures seems pretty essential for taking notes. Duh?

  • As a prof. I would certainly expect everyone to close their laptop. At least while I'm speaking. There's something rude about people looking elsewhere while you speak to them.

    As a former student though, plenty profs have wasted my time - a laptop would've allowed me to do something more useful. Now I ended up writing code on paper while many fellow students made drawings, did homework for other classes, etc.

  • I brought a ThinkPad with me all the time when I was in college for easy access to lecture notes, book chapters that're posted in .pdf format, and also external references, and that didn't stop me at getting straight As from Comp. Sci. classes. Same for many of my friends. I've never been fond of the old stack-of-paper approach - paper get lost easily and are hard to organize when you have a large bunch of them, why bother?

    For students who can manage it, bringing a laptop to class is progress. We should n
  • Get more creative with your teaching methods and embrace the inevitable.

  • by Manip ( 656104 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:39AM (#34708446)
    Should laptops be banned? Yes. But let's ban them because writing offers better recall and less personal distractions. Frankly the argument that someone else reading facebook is distracting is almost laughable. I fail to see how facebook or slashdot are any more distracting on someone else's laptop than for example a word document or OneNote.

    But as a sidebar I just want to point out how lame "college" has become. It used to be for those serious about their education or the academic subjects, but now it is just another mandatory level of education with the same behavioural problems from those who really have no wish to be in attendance. The fact that we're talking about treating 19 to 24 year olds like small children should tell you how silly the situation is becoming.
  • by tagno25 ( 1518033 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:41AM (#34708456)

    Block the problem, not the tool.

  • Laptops can be a bane or improvement on the classroom environment. I think the better question is how to most appropriately take advantage of them
  • Its a problem; laptop or no laptop.

    I've sat in lectures 200+ students and there were plenty of people screwing off. I just didnt let it bother me. If you're taking a class to learn the material you need to pay attention. You want it or you don't. Its as simple as that

  • by Arlet ( 29997 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @05:44AM (#34708466)

    I never understood why students need to take notes. When I was in college I never took notes, instead I tried to listen and understand what was being said. The rest of the required information I got from the course material that was prepared by the teacher.

  • I certainly hate the trend of bringing laptops to meetings. The user may well claim to be saving paper by bringing the meeting documents on his laptop. But to everyone else at the meeting he might as well be checking his email, posting on FB or writing a novel.
    As a university lecturer I don't see much of a trend to bring laptops to lectures: our students seem to prefer sleeping or not attending at all. But I think if I was faced with a wall of laptop backs when I looked at the audience I would suggest tha
  • But the classes are very small. 8-12 The Instructor will give a control statement at the beginning of the class, allowing the students, or not to use their laptops.

    They are not connected to the net, so the students really don't care usually. We have had very few problems in our classes.

    I think it is a respect thing. It's one thing to take notes/record a lecture, but another to twitter/facebook. Ultimately I think it is plain rude.

    I completely agree with the students policing themselves at College/Un

  • Carolyn sez:

    Having your laptop out not only distracts other students, but is disrespectful and discouraging to professors.

    As far as I understand, most lecture participation is optional anyway (or should be!). As long as I can type quietly (if I do type, that is), I can’t see it being distracting or discouraging. I have got A’s in grad school in classes where I was reading Harry Potter most of the time. Using a notebook to work on something else would have been no different.

  • Might be one way to prevent the Facebook and YouTube watching during lecture. But it would do nothing for DVD watching and gaming.

  • I am working as researcher/post-grad student, and computer is the number one research tool. Like is hammer for a blacksmith. No surprises there.
    When in the same place I work should "forbid" the major research tool in the classrooms, this is an obvious sight that the teaching system I-speak-and-you-listen-and-take-notes is broken. Or at least obsolete.
    For most of the time I have been good student, and I am writing a doctoral dissertation now. One would expect I like lectures. Still, most of them are boring a

  • 1. My money, my education, my choice.

    2. Distractions are everywhere in the 21st century. You probably wont get a job in a sensory-deprivation booth... more likely it will be a chaotic office/call center/lab/kitchen. Deal with it.

    3. Who uses a frikkin' screen-saver on a laptop?

  • "I'll admit it, when I'm trying to pay attention to the lecture, even someone's screensaver in the row ahead of me can be a major distraction.'"

    Most laptop users (unless they are intently taking notes) don't sit in the front row.

    Or since you're a CS student, if laptop user is sitting in 'n' row.
    Sit in row m, such that mn.

    If they're distracting the teacher, then sure remove them.

  • It might be more reasonable to allow the students to bring their laptops, and then let them know when it's okay to have them out and when it's not. Y'know, like when you have them put their textbooks away during tests or have them put their pencils down when they're supposed to be watching something.
  • Any more than they should ban pen and paper and require students to chisel notes on stone slabs. Next stupid question?
  • With only the visual distraction to worry about, it would be enough to limit laptop use to the rear half (or third) of the auditorium. As long as the front rows are kept free of them, nobody has to sit behind a distracting screen.

  • It might be more reasonable to let them know when they can open them up, and when they should be closed/put away. Y'know, like when you have the students put their textbooks in their bag during a test, or have them put their pencils down when they're supposed to be focusing their attention at the front of the class.
  • Different people have different styles of note taking that works best for them. I use an HP tablet to take notes for grad school - people like me would be out several hundred dollars if the school decided to ban laptops because some people can't stop staring at another person's screen.
  • Profs shouldn't care if they're getting enough attention in class. That's the student's responsibility. They should grade the students appropriately and flunk them if they don't meet the expectations during evaluations/exams.
    I tend to get bored during trainings, because most of them are too slow-paced for my learning rhythm. So I check e-mails and even do a bit of work while the trainer whizzes in the background. It would seem stupid t punish me for that.
    But educators' thinking patterns are so 80's...
  • I am the Instructor Supervisor for a Course in the Air Force. All of our students are issued with laptops. The class size is small (up to 12 Students). They range in age from 18-40ish.

    At the beginning of each lecture, the instructor will issue a control statement detailing the acceptable behavior in the class.

    Most instructors ask the students to close their laptops. Notes are generally provided on the topics covered.

    The Laptops are not connected to an outside network, however it has been noticed th

  • to

    a) Not use the Internet while in class

    b) Not play any animation while in class

    c) Select Notebook Models with a decent low noise of the keyboard

    d) Strictly use their notebooks for note taking, and possibly looking up old lectures.

    People doing something else would be welcome to watch the powerpoint presentation whenever and wherever they want.

  • SpeaCLICK persITTYCLICK I don't fiCLACKETY-CLACK much of a disCLACKtion.

  • Ultimately the students (or their parents) are paying insanely high amounts money for that education. At some point, the student needs to take an interest in receiving an education. I do not feel that the school has the responsibility to make them learn.
    The fact is, the world has changed. Computers will always be with us, we will always be connected to internet and have access to the information we need. Assuming of course something catastrophic doesnt happen, in which case, it wont really matter.
    I think th

  • Laptops are the new notebook - some students even film lectures for future reference. Just turn off WiFi/web access!

  • The problem isn't the laptop, it's the Facebook and chat. Shut down the WiFi for the duration of the class and the problem goes away.

  • Laptops are the new notebook - and some students even film lectures for future reference. Just turn off Wifi and/or Web access - problem solved.

  • Because I was too distracted by my roommate's laptop, I wasn't able to focus fast enough for first post.

  • when I'm trying to pay attention to the lecture, even someone's screensaver in the row ahead of me can be a major distraction.

    Maybe we should spend some time teaching students how to filter? Sure students should be able to say when a peer's computer use is distracting them, but a screen saver is distracting you? Let's not get rid of laptops because some students are easily distracted.

  • Laptops are the new spiral notebook - and some students even use laptops to film lectures for future reference. Just turn off WiFi and problem solved.

  • Why not just put the laptop users in the back so they don't distract anyone with their screens? Seems like a simple solution.
  • Wy not just put the laptop users in the back so no one (but other laptop users) has to see their screens? Seems like a simple solution for the distraction issue. I wonder if posting works (second try).
  • A couple points.
    1. The students pay a lot of money for their education. They must, on their own, take an active part in the learning process. The school needn't force them to learn.
    2. Times, they are a-changing. Like it or not, we will always be with our computers in the very near future. We will always be connected to the web. The information will always be available to us. It's not going away. I see this as an opportunity.
    Rather that forbid computers, the school should encourage this! They should rather t

  • one use for computers is to read e-books. One instructor of mine made her book available to her students in pdf format. I wish I had a tablet.

  • Slashdot ran a similar story [] back in March, so much that needs to be said probably already has been.

    I'm sure there's going to be a lot of disussion about laptops being tools - being useful in some instances, harmful in others - so I'm going to avoid that point and instead raise the issue of accessability. As it is, educational attainment is scewed by socio-economic status - be it grades, prestige of the institution attended, networks formed, or whatever other measure desired. I'm not sure I want laptops
  • Ban everything and let the Dean sort it out!

  • I see no problem in using a laptop as long as its being used for education related activities. If they dont want everyone browsing pr0n, chatting or facebooking they only need block those sites and services from the campus wifi. But I think the ability to google something when your learning is a must. I find it a big help to be able to research things I am learning about on the fly.

  • I prefer to take notes with my laptop but totally agree that too many students lack the self-control not to check email, Facebook or IM their friends while in class. If you allow the professors the ability to kill the room's WiFi the educational experience will be enhanced (lining the rooms with lead to block cell phones would also be heaven).

  • If we're talking about lectures, most certainly so. I would dismiss any student trying to hide behind a screen of digital hogwash, if you're not interested in what someone is lecturing, why even bother showing up? If you want to make notes, bring a non-intrusive pen and paper. Beats the hell out of any tablet/laptop loaded with whatever note-taking utility.

  • "I'll admit it, when I'm trying to pay attention to the lecture, even someone's screensaver in the row ahead of me can be a major distraction."

    Err okay, so what are you going to do when college is over and you go to work in an office environment?

  • This is a pointless debate. The question of if the other person should be using a computer in this particular situation is neither here nor there. In reality, you're going to be faced with this exact problem many times in the workplace (with laptops - often for legitimate reasons - being brought into meetings, seminars and even one-to-one conferences.) It's not going to be in your power to stop this happening.

    Learning to cope with this and being productive is therefore an important life skill. Yes, it

  • I'll admit it, when I'm trying to pay attention to the lecture, even someone's screensaver in the row ahead of me can be a major distraction.'"

    Err okay, what are you going to do when college is over and you go to work in an office environment?

  • When students try to hide themselves behind a screen of digital hogwash I would instantly dismiss them. If you aren't interested in what the lecturer has to say, why even bother showing up? If you want to take notes, utilize far more superior tools: pen and paper. Beats the hell out of any not-taking utility on any laptop/tablet.

    Students should be actively engaged with lecturers, and not be dividing their time between them and their computer.

  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @08:10AM (#34709212) Journal
    Colleges should ban class lectures. They are one of the less efficient way of conveying information and knowledge. The fact that these survived the invention of the printing press amazes me but I am confident it won't survive the internet era.
  • by yog ( 19073 ) * on Thursday December 30, 2010 @08:26AM (#34709290) Homepage Journal

    Why would someone even ask this question, let alone get it headlined on Slashdot?

    Like it or not, computers are an integral part of higher education in the U.S. and can't be removed. Lecture notes and other materials are routinely provided online, most communications are via email or via campus-wide chatboards, and grades are supplied via online systems.

    To cut off students from all these resources during lecture may have certain merit from the point of view of a vain or self-important professor who believes all eyes should be on him, but for maximizing efficiency of learning, students today have to have their laptops.

    For one thing, most young people can barely write without a keyboard. I do like to take notes on paper, but typing is so much faster that there's no comparison. For a fast typist, it's the difference between getting almost all of the information down and getting maybe 60% or 70% of the information down. There are certain advantages to writing, like drawing arrows, figures, etc. Heck, you really need both. But the keyboard rules.

    There are students who learn better at their own pace, who get little out of the lectures, but who need to be in the lecture hall in case sneaky professors provide information verbally that is not written down in the lecture notes. Such students can read, study other material, and half-listen. I've done it myself. It's perhaps not ideal, but it's a way to get through a course.

    Another point to consider is that even if they managed to ban laptop use in lecture halls on some luddite campus, the students will still have smartphones which are functionally similar. Do we also ban use of iPhones and Android phones? Force the students to keep them out of sight? What about students with iPad and Kindle type computers which literally slide into a notebook and are barely visible?

    What about students with hearing impediments or other physical problems that rely on computers to get them through a lecture?

    Thanks for playing. Next.

    • by xtal ( 49134 )

      I have an electrical engineering degree from a decent school. I started in 1994.

      I never saw a computer my whole time in a lecture.

      I never used a calculator once in a calculus, differential equations, linear matrices, or complex multivariable calculus. They were banned.

      Lectures were for listening and learning. Tutorials for questions. Labs were for learning and building.

      Articles such as these make me very worried about what university education is turning into.

  • by Bicx ( 1042846 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @08:54AM (#34709434)
    There were classes I took in college in which the only way for me to take notes fast enough was to type them. Even if that wasn't the case, it was much easier to organize and share notes that are in electronic form. Sure, it may be distracting if someone in front of you is browsing on Facebook, and sure, that may be an abuse of their use of a laptop in class. However, this is a fairly minor distraction for those around. Just wait until you get a job where your cube mates are all arguing about and sending you constant email updates while you are just trying to finish your bread-winning work for the day.
  • by kurokame ( 1764228 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @09:00AM (#34709478)
    College students are ostensibly adults. If they don't want to pay attention in class and want to look like an idiot while they do FarmVille offers in the lecture hall, that's their problem. It's also their right if they want to use it to look up something they didn't understand or to take notes. There's no reason to meddle with this if it's not actively disrupting class. If the bare fact that they have one out is bothering you, get over yourself. If they're being disruptive, sit somewhere else or talk to someone about it. You're in college, it's time to grow up now.
  • by mjensen ( 118105 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @09:33AM (#34709740) Journal

    If you want to ban laptops, then you need to go after cell phones, pagers, and everything else a student can bring in. I don't care about the result, as long as its uniform.
    You may be required to change your teaching methods, to engage more students.

    If you can't pay attention in class, it could be that's your problem. You may need to focus on the class and not care what screensavers are running on laptops, since you'll have to do the same thing when you are done with school.
    Or gang up on the Facebook students and ask them to be more polite.

  • by Thumper_SVX ( 239525 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @10:18AM (#34710162) Homepage

    Seems to me that this should be a choice. The student (or their family) are paying for the college in the first place, should it not be their choice whether or not they pay attention? I realize that in theory the idea of distraction might be valid (distracting other kids with screensavers and games), it also seems to me that a little self control would go a long way there for the kids who are being distracted. Alternatively, as another poster mentioned have a brief at the start of the session about laptop etiquette.

    Of course, I think that the social network problem and games could both be battled with a relatively simple fix; turn off the wireless! Last I checked, laptops still come with onboard storage for documents... hell even that Google thing has storage for offline edits. Most game players are playing online games anyway these days, so turning off the wifi makes it less interesting... though yes, the hardcore gamers might still fire up a game in class. Having said all this, the same students who are playing games and their social networks during a class are probably the same students who doodle in their notebooks and distract those around them during class... should we also ban pen and paper?

    It seems to me that the technology progresses, but people remain fundamentally the same. You're not going to fix that by striking out at the new technology. I am not currently in college, but my girlfriend is and they've had exactly this discussion in the last 12 months because she likes to take notes using her cellphone (an old HTC Touch Pro), which she can then save, email or print. Me, I go to meeting with my iPhone and use Evernote to take notes during the meeting... that way I have a copy of it waiting on my desktop computer when I get out of the meeting. And yes, I've seen people at meetings sitting there with their cellphones playing games or on Facebook... hell, I've done it once or twice. Still, that's my choice; if I miss something fundamental in the meeting because I'm distracted then I will pay the price... no-one else.

  • by stewbacca ( 1033764 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @11:36AM (#34711044)

    I have taught at the elementary, middle, high school levels, as well as adult and technical training.

    In the technical training I've done, it's on them to pay attention. For the kids, it's on me to make them pay attention (and by kids, I mean K-12, not college students).

    The only ban I would consider would be if their behavior is distracting the OTHER students, like using their cell phone in class. Other than that, if Mommy and Daddy keep wanting to pay for little Sally to get Cs and Ds in college, then so be it.

  • by nlawalker ( 804108 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @01:11PM (#34712158)

    Keep the laptops, keep the wifi.

    Explain to students that there aren't many professional work environments that ban either, so they need to get used to managing their own usage, and get used to people around them doing things on their laptops. It's an opportunity for people who have problems with either or both to learn that if they can't rein in their attention, they're going to fail at class, at work and at life.

    For those that say that it's not the job of the class to teach these lessons, I agree - it's simply the students' job to take control of their own life. It's no different than someone tailgating you on the freeway or cutting in front of you in line. University classrooms are learning environments and professors and TAs should help enforce that, but they aren't surrounded by some magical force field that entitles you to a guardian angel when you walk in.

    If Joe Laptop won't turn off Netflix or Quake Live, grow a pair and ask them to turn it off, or just get up and move. Don't sit next to him next time. If your classroom has become a LAN party with every student except for you participating, talk to the TA or professor after class and ask them to help. It is their responsibility to help ensure that you have an opportunity to learn; it's not their job to guarantee that you'll have a private fort wherever you decide to sit.

  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @02:27PM (#34712974)

    Until you spend some time on the lonely side of the podium, it's hard to comment with a full scope of knowledge on this question.

    Classes where laptops are left closed result in much more engaged and dynamic classes. Those where they are open result in the "room full of zombies" effect. There's a reason it's so annoying to talk with somebody who looks away and digs in a purse or engages elsewhere when it's your turn to speak. The bio-feedback loop collapses and the teacher might as well post lectures on YouTube and students post questions in an on-line forum somewhere. Heck; on YouTube you can pause and re-play stuff. And it's cheaper!

    Universities were built and people attend them at great cost in order to assemble like-minds in one place so that everybody can benefit from those aspects of humanity which thrive on face to face communication, (also earned at great cost through the trials of evolution). There are many layers of communication taking place, both subtle and extreme, which bring a room alive when people engage in each other in meat-space, but which are stripped away when it's done through a computer screen. This doesn't mean that the virtual world is without benefit. It's not; computers are a boon. But the virtual world can be attended any time, any place you can flip open a laptop. It was built to simulate the grand effect of a campus assembly. But if you are actually attending a college assembly. . ?

    Laptops need to be used responsibly. Turn off animations and distracting screen savers in respect of the people sitting near you. If you're going to take notes, then sure, do so, but have the courtesy to limit it to notes and stay engaged in discussions. If you need to look something up to aid the discussion, then sure, do that, but in general things work best when all eyes and ears are on whoever is speaking. If you want to play on Facebook or dip into a game, then that's fine by me, but please physically leave class first because you're literally sucking the life out of the room by removing your mind and leaving a vacant corpse in your chair. It's creepy.

    Ideally, I like to have wifi and fluorescent lights killed and windows open for fresh air. I also like to rearrange the chairs so that we can all see each other to better engage. Do that, and everybody wakes up, but these days it's very hard to scrub an environment of all the fuzz designed to keep us zoned out.


  • by Ritchie70 ( 860516 ) on Thursday December 30, 2010 @11:27PM (#34718412) Journal

    I haven't been in school since 1990, but sometimes at work, someone will insist that people close laptops during a meting.

    Its usually either a self-important, ignorant project manager or a director.

    Because they take notes in their stupid leather bound book, they assume the rest of us should too.

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.