Saturday, October 15, 2005

Laptops in the Classroom--Blessing or Curse?

The Vision (with a capital V): A wi-fi campus. A laptop in the hands of every student. A learning environment without walls. Every student instantly able to bring to bear computing power to enhance learning.

The reality: Something different. True, those laptops are proliferating in classrooms like dollars in Bill Gates' bank account. But, it's how they're being used that is bringing dismay to faculty.

My story: Last week I referred to the San Antonio Spurs to illustrate a point in my 300 student economics class. As soon as the Spurs were mentioned, a student in the third row instantly swiveled his laptop around to show me a picture of one of the Spurs players in action. "Aha," said I. "So this is what you're doing all class period." It turns out that he's not the only one.

Dennis Adams, professor at the University of Houston, gives his take on the distractive power of the laptop in the classroom:

You can be in the front of the classroom and your hair could catch on fire and they'll never see it because their eyes are glued to the 14-inch screen at the end of their nose.

The backlash: Block wi-fi access in classrooms.

The negative side effect: Neighboring offices' access to the network is accidently blocked.

The backlash, part II: Ban or limit the use of laptops by students in the classroom.

The problem: Students respond with unkind comments about the instructor on student surveys.

My perspective: There have always been distractions that pull student attention away from the topic at hand. In the old days, little Johnny would dip Susie's pigtail in the inkwell, setting off a howl from Susie. Then there were the entertaining spitball fights in the back of the room. More recently, the ringing of cell phones has not exactly been music to the ears of students and professors.

Laptops are another in a long line of distractions.

My suggestion: Confront the issue of classroom laptop use with students early, such as on the syllabus. A laptop might be a good tool to use to take notes in class or to use in applying computing power to classroom assignments. The problem is when it's used for extraneous purposes.

That's nothing new. When I was in the seventh grade I got called by a teacher for doodling. Misuse of a pencil was the crime. It just proves that instructors have always had a difficult time getting learners to pay attention.


Blogger Anthrogrl said...

I see laptops used in just about all of my classes, especially the ones that have +100 students. I agree it's a good way to take notes, but I think computers (esp. Internet usage) also affect students' grades.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Claudia M said...

I also see many students use laptops in my classes. In one of my honors class of 20 people, there are like 5 laptops..even my professor metioned, "I don't think I've seen so many of those things in one class!"
I do not have a laptop, but if I did, I would bring it to class.
But of course, I see many students also playing solitare and surfing the internet during lecture..
I don't see a problem if the students used their laptops to take notes for instance, but it can also be a distracting device for that student and other students around them.

10:23 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

I think laptops are a useful tool for the classroom. There is a problem of people playing games, but at least they are being discrete about not paying attention. I had a girl in my math class play a game boy in class everyday.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Kristina W said...

I personally feel like sooner or later people are going to say what's the point of paper and pencil? But even though I shamelessly enjoy the benefits of technology with my cell phone, DVD player, computer etc I can't help this niggling feeling of self-contempt. My subconscious is whispering, "It's all an illusion. 'They' want you to believe you NEED all this crap but you really don't." As to the place of laptops in the classroom-why not? They can serve their purpose quite well. As to those who want to chat on the internet and play solitaire and be overtly disrespectful to a lecturer-the root of the problem isn't the laptop it's the student's lack of manners and integrity. I personally want to get my money's worth from my education.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Jbrew87 said...

Personally lap tops are way too heavy for me to bring to class.A spiral notebook and pen is far more efficient especially when it comes to drawing graphs and charts. Paper is also more reliable since you do not have to worry about your spiral notebook crashing, or running out of batteries.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Alexander S. Dickie said...

Now days, students are using their laptops and desktops for messaging, gaming, and surfing on the internet. I'd say that laptops are used for "idle play" way more than they are for hardcore note taking and studying. It's always been up to the student to decide how to spend his/her time the best. Providing laptops to students would just be one more distraction that will seperate the strong willed learners from the easily tempted weaklings. So, I think that laptops could help serve in strengthening the human race by more accurately eliminating the stragglers.

12:29 PM  
Blogger HalheG said...

Laptops are great and all, but I choose to leave mine at home. Why would anyone want to carry a laptop around to class? I know there are really small and light ones these days, but I think it would still be annoying. I would much rather just carry around a legal pad and a pen. Purses are heavy enough sometimes.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Shawna M said...

It's hard to make a decision with the topic of laptops. Some students actually use them for the right purpose, and others do't. Should we punish the students who are taking technology to their advantage....

8:30 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

I think it's the individuals choice whether they're messing with their laptop or taking notes as long as it isn't a distraction. Taking away internet access doesn't mean the same people that were playing games will pay attention.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Katie B. said...

Students need to take responsibility for themselves. If they want good grades they will pay attention and take good notes. If they don't think the lecture is important they may spend that time surfing the web. I don't think wi-fi ability should be taken away. If an instructor wants to show his/her students a website to help with the lesson people who have a computer might want to follow along. I say just leave it up to the individual.

2:46 PM  

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