Laptops in the Classroom

Laptops in the Classroom                                                                                                                                    28 Jun 2013

The online edition of the Diamondback on 2 October 12 published two opinion pieces by Lauren Mendelsohn and Maria Romas. Ms. Mendelsohn found the use of laptops distracting to her classmates who use them and even to herself, who doesn’t. Ms. Romas, on the other hand, declares that this is the digital age and F2F educational settings need to incorporate these tools. Both writers note that some professors bar laptops in their classrooms.

I do see both sides of the debate. Like Ms. Mendelsohn, I am a ‘pen and paper gal.’ Yes, my notes can be illegible to anyone but me, but I’m the one that needs to read them. I type quickly (showing my age here), but not nearly as quickly as I can take notes manually. I also see how all of those glowing monitors could be distracting or even make it hard to focus on the screen or whiteboard at the front.

On the other hand, I agree with Ms. Romas that college students are adults and if they choose to sit in class and shop for shoes or play Farmville, that is their prerogative (although if I’m the parent paying the tuition and I find out that that is why my child earned a sub-par grade, I would NOT be happy). Wi-Fi access could certainly enhance a lecture situation for students looking to get their money’s worth through the many interactive tools available.
Where does the answer lie? I propose that each student be responsible for him- or herself but that another student’s right to distract him/herself ends where it interferes with those around them. This leads to Ms. Mendelsohns’ closing suggestion – us dinosaurs in front, those dedicated to the coursework in the middle, and the multitaskers in the back.



  1. Lisa,
    I see laptops, tablets and smartphones as any other tool students and teachers use to enrich the learning experience. Part of the educational process is for students to be responsible for their learning therefore I do not see necessary to impose restrictions or regulations. My experience is with adults so probably I am a little bias here.

    1. Manuel,
      Funny you should mention that. My sister-in-law teaches at an University and I specifically asked her about this while visiting over the 4th of July. She said that on the first day of class she tells students out-right that she does not mind if they use their electronics to take notes, but if they are incessantly texting, Face-booking or on Twitter with their devices in their laps it looks, well, odd and that is embarrassing for everyone present. She said that this usually works, but added that she is not nearly as draconian as some of her colleagues. I know from first hand experience (as a student and as college staff) that as soon as students sit down at PCs for a class (work related training or a college class), three quarters of them went on-line and opened two windows: one for e-mail and one for Facebook, even when the instructor stated that the computers would not be needed until later in the class. These were adults ranging from 18 to 50 years old.
      I do agree that as adults, they should be responsible for their own behavior, but I also believe that their behavior should not be disrespectful towards the instructor or disruptive to the other students.

  2. Manuel · · Reply

    I also had this conversation with other professors, this is my point: checking e-mails or Facebook only becomes disrespectful when you can see what the students are seeing? Now imagine that they are looking at you with open eyes and closed minds, does it make any difference? I agree that disruptive behavior should not be tolerated.

    1. That happens too; on the other hand, I think that we are all guilty of that at times, whether as students, instructors or in other areas (I’m on a lot of committees and run in to the ‘but we’ve always done it this way’, or am sometimes guilty of it – if we tried it two years ago as a fundraiser and lost money, I’m not likely to be willing to chance it again). I’m not sure that it’s a matter of seeing what they are doing, but realizing that they aren’t paying attention – then will ask questions that were already answered or then claim that the ‘teacher never covered that’… But then, when I was in high school, I had teachers that would fling erasers at those not paying attention.

  3. I need to find the citations, but I belong to a group of DoDDS teachers who have posted a couple of studies that found that taking notes by hand is much more helpful than on a laptop.

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