Laptops in Class Redux

The Washington Post revisits the question of laptop use in the classroom.

A generation ago, academia embraced the laptop as the most welcome classroom innovation since the ballpoint pen. But during the past decade, it has evolved into a powerful distraction. Wireless Internet connections tempt students away from note-typing to e-mail, blogs, YouTube videos, sports scores, even online gaming — all the diversions of a home computer beamed into the classroom to compete with the professor for the student’s attention. . . .

Professors have banned laptops from their classrooms at George Washington University, American University, the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia, among many others. Last month, a physics professor at the University of Oklahoma poured liquid nitrogen onto a laptop and then shattered it on the floor, a warning to the digitally distracted. A student — of course — managed to capture the staged theatrics on video and drew a million hits on YouTube. . . .

Diane E. Sieber, an associate professor of humanities at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has debated her students on the collegiate conceit of multitasking, the notion that today’s youths can fully attend to a lecture while intermittently toggling over to e-mail, ESPN and Facebook. . . .

One recent semester, Siebert tracked the grades of 17 student laptop addicts. At the end of the term, their average grade was 71 percent, “almost the same as the average for the students who didn’t come at all.” . . .

[Professor David ] Cole surveyed one of his Georgetown classes anonymously after six weeks of laptop-free lectures. Four-fifths said they were more engaged in class discussion. Ninety-five percent admitted that they had used their laptops for “purposes other than taking notes.”

Even when used as glorified typewriters, laptops can turn students into witless stenographers, typing a lecture verbatim without listening or understanding.

I’ve yet to ban laptops in my class, but I’ve considered it, primarily because non-classroom use on a laptop can distract other students.  Perhaps I should consider it again.