Use and Misuse of Laptops in the Classrooms!

Dear Commons Community,

During the past few days there has been a very interesting discussion on the Hunter College LISTSERV debating the use and misuse of laptops in the classroom.  The yeas refer to the fact that laptops are becoming indispensable learning tools and many students now use them to take notes and  to look up information pertinent to class discussions.  The nays cite examples of students not actually using their laptops for instruction-related activities and that many are engaged in social networking, reading emails, and in one case, looking at pornography.  It appears that the issue is of particular concern to faculty who teach in large lecture halls with hundreds of students where control of the devices becomes almost impossible.  The crux of the matter is how to develop a policy that does not throw the baby out with the bath water that is not to ban them outright but how to monitor students who use laptops for learning versus those who use them for other purposes.



  1. @apicciano,
    You bring up a good point that telling, or mandating, how faculty teach is not kosher. Also a good point for smaller class sizes. Personally I think that it’s not a good situation in a small classroom where a student does not actively participate in the discussion and instead does unrelated things on a laptop. Does the faculty have the right to ask the student to put it away? Probably. Are there other ways of dealing with that kind of unwanted situation? Probably too.

    This kind of problem is interesting because while technology is the immediate surface problem it’s really a human interaction problem at heart and I think dealing with this kind of situation requires the kind of interaction skills that most college faculty were not trained in and many find difficult to master. It’s similar to the problem of what do you do when you give a lecture and no one is listening.

  2. Christopher,

    I agree with your view. It is entirely appropriate in large classes where the level of interaction with the professor and other students is minimal. Why not use the technology to develop interaction? However, then we get into the position of telling faculty how to teach which in some colleges (CUNY included) is anathema.

    For smaller classes where the instructor can literally engage students f2f in discussion, problem-solving, Socratic questioning, etc. do we consider the laptop or anything else (cellphone, doodling) a distraction. If so, does the faculty member have the right to ask students to put it away?


  3. Tony,
    I recognize that laptops have the potential for distraction but do we really know that they distract students any more than they might already be distracted? There are probably no calls to ban pencils to stop doodling, what about cell phone bans to stop texting or for that matter how to prevent daydreaming and outright sleeping? Sarcasm aside, it seems that laptops are partly victim of the fact that they are big and bright and so it is easier to see when a student is distracted. The debate about the laptops masks the core problem that students aren’t engaged in the material. There’s another discussion to be had there, especially about large class size. But I wonder if, instead of banning laptops we could do more to allow the students to engage the class with the laptops? Have the professors tried tuings like providing the lecture materials in digital form so those with laptops can see and take notes on them whole in class? Maybe use laptops like clickers (with a more powerful interface) to make the class more interactive?