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Electronics in the classroom

September 12, 2013

A Sea Laptops During a Lecture

The summer is a memory, the new semester is well underway, and among other things, I’ve been pondering my approach to laptops and other electronic devices in the classroom. For several years now, I’ve banned laptops in my classes (with some exceptions), due to the many distractions they create. Whenever I polled my students, most said it was a good policy. And a lot of research suggests that multitasking is a myth.

But during the past year or so, many of my students have been turning to e-books for their course texts, and many no longer print out the assigned articles but read them online instead. One student last semester even did all her reading on her smart phone.

So I had to either stop asking them to have the reading in front of them during class, which is often useful for discussing difficult passages in philosophical texts, or I had to give up my laptop ban.

I talked with several colleagues about it. One colleague bans all electronic devices and asks students to leave if they sneak a look at their phone. Another waits until he sees students checking email or texting and them asks them to stop. Another says students are becoming more disciplined and it’s not really a problem anymore. Yet another takes a laissez-faire approach, saying that if students distract themselves or each other, that’s their problem.

I got out my laptop, of course, and went looking for further input, and found useful articles here and here.

For better or worse, here’s what it now says in my syllabus:

Wireless Devices

Some students like to use a laptop, tablet, or smart phone to take notes during class, and some students use wireless devices to read assigned articles and books. But in a classroom, wireless devices can be extremely distracting, not only for the person using the device but also for other students and the instructor. Several studies have shown that wireless devices may reduce student learning. The general policy of this course is that wireless devices may be used to take notes, but the wireless receiver must be turned off. Cell phones must be turned off or set to vibrate or mute. I will also ask students to close or put away wireless devices at specific times, such as during class discussions or when students are working in small groups. And of course students may not use wireless devices during exams, and not at any time for surfing, shopping, texting, playing games, checking email, or any other activities not directly related to the course. Violations of this policy will affect your grade. If you require special accommodation in this regard, please let me know.

So far it’s working out alright.

And although my students disagree on the policy itself, they have been eager to talk about it, which suggests that civilization may not be doomed after all.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bob Friedman permalink
    September 12, 2013 5:56 PM

    Reading Mark’s post on electronic devices has inspired me. Most of my lectures, especially when I am commenting on daily events, are extemporaneous. As a consequence, there are names that I know but cannot recall. Today it was the rock group imprisoned by Putin (we talked about his op-ed in class today) and the American in Yemen killed by a drone (once again in reference to Putin on American exceptionalism)..

    A quick search on an open laptop would have revealed the names Pussy Riot (How could I have forgotten that!) and al-Awlaki. I think now I will make these quick internet searches a regular feature of my class. It might be a nice break for the students to see who can come up with the name the Professor has forgotten.

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