As the academic year draws to a close, I am scurrying to finish my classroom observations. In addition, to gathering data on technology use by professors, teaching styles, and student-faculty interaction, I always take note of what students are doing. What most of the students are doing is using their laptops. Sometimes it is education-related use and often it is for personal use.
So the article recently published by Kristen E. Murray of Temple University, James E. Beasley School of Law entitled, “Let Them Use Laptops: Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate Over Laptops in the Classroom” couldn’t have come at a better time.
For this article, Murray surveyed 177 1Ls from Temple and George Washington University. As expected, they admitted that they didn’t always use them for school work. But 93% use their laptops to take notes, 82% to review notes from past classes, 67 % to access relevant materials, and almost 37 % to look up answers to the professor’s questions.
Also, 59% reported that laptops had no effect on their participation in class, and almost 18% felt that laptops made them more likely to participate.
Murray, in the article, offers suggestions on dealing with laptop use by students such as asking them to close them or implementing class participation requirements.
Here’s an excerpt from a 1L syllabus at Albany Law School:
Class participation includes completing any online surveys/pretests, preparedness, attentiveness, respectfulness, prompt attendance, and meaningful contributions to the in-class discussion and discussion forums. Please leave your cell phones in your backpack, book bags, lockers or somewhere where it is not visible to you or me. If you find it necessary to check electronic communication (e.g., facebook, email, SMS, IMs, Skype, eBay, Amazon, etc.) then please do so outside of the classroom. People are known to survive at a very high rate without phones and internet activity over the course of two hours and even longer. If you must communicate with someone other than with me or the class as a whole, then please do so outside of the classroom. Anyone, whose phone or other device interrupts class will have to provide chocolate chip cookies or brownies for the entire class at the next meeting. (nb: anyone with allergy to chocolate who is required to comply with this last rule can substitute butterscotch brownies or oatmeal cookies).
It is important to note that laptops are not the only distractions to paying attention in class. Cell phones are easier to hide and are just as tempting. Today’s smartphone offer the same access to the web as laptops.
Both Murray and I strongly believe that the benefits of students using laptops in the classroom outweigh the distractions.