Friday, May 16, 2008

Are they just lapping it up?

Prof. Anonymous at Pajamas Media has a short piece about students using laptops in class. A couple of quotes to suggest the tone:

I’m in the midst of a brilliant lecture. I’m very well prepared for this class. I have thirty or forty Powerpoint slides that boil down the textbook chapter into handy outlines. I have included outside material that I spent hours finding and scanning. I have even inserted a two minute clip from a news show that someone had uploaded to YouTube. I also genuinely find this topic fascinating, so I’m able to talk passionately about it. I’m pacing and making wild arm movements.But about half the class isn’t staring at the wonder that is me. Their eyes are glued to their computer monitors. There is a background sound of clacked-clack as they transcribe my lecture. At least, that’s what they tell me what they’re doing. I can’t see their monitor screens. It’s more likely that they’re IM-ing their girlfriends and flirting with boys on MySpace and downloading songs. ...

Some universities have no laptop policies, because of the temptation to check Perez Hilton and the latest YouTube sensation while in class.

I let it go. If they miss two weeks of school and show up for the final with a hangover, I say “your funeral, dude.” To me, in-class internet surfing falls under the “your funeral” policy. If students want to bomb my final because they weren’t paying attention to the lecture, then go for it.

I'd be interested to know how people feel about laptop use by students. I guess I hadn't really noticed the ubiquity of laptops until recently, say, the past year or so. (And for reasons I can't figure out, they're more common in my general education courses than my courses for philosophy majors.) I don't have a 'no laptop' policy, and I'm not in general opposed to their use for taking notes, etc.

But please folks: If you are going to sit in class and IM and search YouTube, please don't come to my class. It's an insult to me and to those around you.


  1. I have a no laptop policy in my philosophy classes unless the person requests special permission to use them (some students with learning disabilities find it easier to take notes with them).

    My reason for banning them in general is not because I find their use disrespectful, but because they are distracting to other students around the person with the laptop. When I've seen them used in class, people are always looking over each other's shoulders to see what is going on. So I tell people that their use is a nuisance to other students.

  2. Students could care less about your "please don't come to my class" with your laptop lectures. If you don't want them to do it, you need a policy. It's akin to telling them "please study hard" when there are no penalaties for missing a quiz or paper deadline or "please come to class" when you don't have an attendance policy.


    After reading the above article and talking with numerous students and a number of colleauges who have instituted such a ban at my university, I'm going to try instituting a 'no laptop' policy in my fall classes. (With exceptions, of course, for those with a note from the disability services office).

  4. This is an interesting question regarding the use of laptops in class. I allow my students to use them, and I have noticed that it is quite easy to determine whether or not the students are using them appropriately or not. First, I know my students well by the second week of class, so I know whether or not they are prone to such misuse. Second, students around other students who are "surfing" the internet tend to give the fact away by peering at the monitor of the laptop user. Third, and most effectively, is eye contact. I have never taught a student who has either taken notes by hand or electronically and who was not also paying attention to me with their eyes. If I don't see their eyes frequently, I know something is amiss.

    This said, I have found no use for a "no laptop" policy, but I certainly can see the benefit for those who are not comfortable watching for the signs of misuse. I would like to think, however, that it is not misuse that we are watching for in class, but comprehension and engagement. If we are paying attention to these things, then I should think we can't miss someone misusing their technology.

  5. First, laptops are becoming more ubiquitous. When nearly all of the students in class have their laptops open, the novelty of having one in class will disappear and the "peering over the shoulder" phenomenon will dissipate.

    Second, I have to caution Kevin's suggestion that only students with disabilities be allowed to use computers in the classroom (Also, I don't understand how happy law students relate to laptops in the classroom; can we get a correction on the abstract citation?). This seems to be a violation of the ADA. Accommodations for students with disabilities cannot be broadcast to other members of the class. A very discrete policy will be required.

    Finally, to extend J. Nicholson's comment, I have found that walking around the classroom tends to discourage the recreational use of laptops too.

  6. I have a no laptop policy, and I'm very happy with it. I see no advantages to the use of laptops in philosophy classes, and several disadvantages.

    I'm not sure why one ought to adjust the policy for disabled students, either. I suspect that the advantage they stand to provide to the disabled is outweighed by the disadvantage the distraction they create imposes on others, and it in some universities (including mine, I suspect) disability exemptions are very easy to get. Why not just let anyone, including the disabled, use tape recorders?


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