Hey Teacher, leave the kids (and their laptops) alone……
Many professors are apparently banning the use of laptops in their classes – arguing that laptop use, particularly to surf the internet during lectures, are a ‘distraction’.
As the professor lectured on the law, the student wore a poker face. But that was probably because, under the guise of taking notes on his laptop, the student actually was playing poker — online, using the school’s wireless Internet connection. The scenario is not uncommon in today’s college classrooms, and some instructors want it stopped. So they have done the unthinkable — banned laptops.
There seems to be two major complaints here from the teacher’s side: the students are either too focused on typing up notes on the lecture or simply doing something else like checking e-mails, IM-ing, (and perhaps blogging?) on their laptop. In both cases, the professors contend, students are not really ‘participating’ in the class.
I think these are just lame excuses for professors with poor teaching skills. Regarding taking notes in class – in the pre-laptop era the same students would be copying the lecture verbatim with a pen on paper. All through my high-school to college life I have seen these species – students who hang on to every word the teacher speaks thinking they are pearls of wisdom to be written down and recorded for posterity. So compulsive was their habit that I remember one teacher, who wanted us to pay attention and participate in class discussion, having to snatch away their pens ! So you replace paper with laptops – a much neater way of taking notes actually. The only complaint could be if someone is bothered by all the tapping noise from the keyboards.
As for doing other stuff online – I can’t remember the number of lectures, both in undergraduate and graduate school, that were so dull and uninspiring so as to induce me into a sleep (for the lack of anything better to do and also because I hadn’t slept the night before having too much fun with friends). At least if I had a laptop and wi-fi connection at that time, I might have spent my time more constructively (like I am doing now by blogging !). IMO, if a student is not paying much attention to what you are saying – there is a good chance you are not communicating effectively. This is particularly true for elective subjects in college or graduate school – most students are in those classes because they happen to like or have some interest in the topic already.
Now I agree that for teenagers with limited attention spans, some sort of discipline needs to be enforced. So I would not be too opposed to limiting use of laptops in high-school or the first couple of undergraduate years. But these are mostly law school students (that too from Harvard and all) that the article is talking about – not exactly undergraduates who need to be coached at very step. Most (likely all) of them are adults with considerable life experience and maturity to figure out what is right for them. Also, law school is extremely competitive and not to mention expensive – why would the students risk missing out important things in class that might jeopardize their law education. These people are going to go out in the real world in a few years and perhaps handle matters of life and death – can’t you trust them to be attentive in class.
IMHO, all this is just a convenient ego-stroking exercise for the professors.
Of course, my opinions might change pretty quickly if and when I get to the other side of the podium someday and find some wise-ass watching torrent versions of American Idol instead of listening to my pearls of wisdom. 🙂
PS – On a similar note, I have heard about a few professors who make students shut-off their cell phones and deposit them in a box in the front of a class ! One of the professor in my department has a much better solution – anyone whose cell phone rings in the middle of a meeting, lecture etc – buys bagels for the rest !