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Laptop Bans

A University of Memphis law professor angered some of her students for banning the use of laptops in her class. She felt laptops were “turning her students into stenographers and inhibiting classroom debate”.

I understand her complaints. I taught computer courses at two career colleges for a year. Obviously all my classes were conducted in classrooms were each student had her own computer. This setting allowed for students to do active learning in class assignments were they created documents, programmed, searched the Internet, etc. Unfortunately the computers also facilitated distractions when students drifted off to read e-mail, chat, play, surf the Web, etc.

Last time I was in college as a student (1998), laptops were not cheap enough to be ubiquitous. But I noticed that the few laptops in the class were a distraction for me and others due to the typing noise and the temptation to look over the shoulder of the owner to check what he was typing or looking at.

Now I’m a graduate student again and find myself trying to keep better class notes than the last time I was in school. I like to take notes on paper; I like to make diagrams and draw connections between my notes. But I rarely, almost never, go back to re-read my notes and when I need to recall something the professor said I have a hard time finding it in my notebook. So now I occasionally bring my laptop to class to take notes. I keep them in a great program called OneNote (I will blog about it some day) were I can easily organize and search them. I can also create calendar and To Do list items for classwork while still in the classroom.

I’ll confess that I sometimes get distracted or distract others with my computer, but for the most part I think it is very productive to use my laptop in class. I don’t need the laptop to take the class, but it makes my life a bit easier so I would be a bit disappointed if a professor banned it from the classroom.

I have the feeling that a teacher who only teaches through lecturing would have to be concerned about students becoming stenographers. On the other hand, teachers that keep an active / interactive classroom won’t have as many problems with computers interrupting learning.

What do you think about the use of laptops in the classroom?

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