Professor James Loeffler writing for Time Ideas in an article entitled Professor: I Banned Laptops from the Lecture Hall, states that when he "finally got tired of playing Internet policeman" that he decided to "ban laptops" in a history class. He cites the reasons as that in addition to laptops providing "an outlet for boredom", that they have a "negative effect on the more attentive students, many of whom compulsively transcribe every utterance" onto their laptops. Loeffler concludes that the "essential skill of discernment, of determining what is important and what is not, gets lost in a world of students turned secretaries, dutifully taking dictation". He claims that many of his students "are relieved" as a result, and that laptops "undermine the radically simple mission of higher education: learning".
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While I see merit in what Prof Loeffler has done, I'm not sure I agree totally with him. He does point out that there have been distractions in classes since the days of Aristotle (I can remember doodling in class with a pencil - should this be banned?), and he is right to be concerned with anything that might interfere with "learning". I do feel that students using computers (or tablets/smartphones) in class can be a distraction and my suspicion is that many are not involved in note taking or looking up a word or term they don't understand. Only last week I posted about how Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. My belief is that Professors/Lecturers/Teachers should have a strategy for dealing with technology use in the classroom. For example, the iPad and many similar tablet devices have note-taking properties with a stylus - surely this is just the same as using a pen and paper? Maybe even better?
I would love to see the day when every student has a laptop or tablet in class that can be used for in-class engagement as well as for note-taking and referencing. What can be frustrating for students is that they might be allowed in some classes, but not in others. Universities and Colleges need to seriously think about their strategies for dealing with this in an era when the humble wristwatch is being turned into a smart device, and students are becoming completely immersed in digital environments.
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