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There are many studies, some linked at the end of this post, which argue for the benefits of eliminating (or at least limiting) laptop use in the classroom, advocate for old-fashioned hand-writing as a superior note taking practice to that of electronic transcription of lectures, and argue that college students are just too prone to distraction to be able to police themselves on technology use. There are also those such as Rebecca Schuman who argue that restricting laptop is infantilizing to students who should be learning not only the lecture material but also how to navigate real world situations in which they will not have someone to regulate their attention.

I personally allow my students to use their laptops in class because I believe that we all need to embrace the fact that technology is networked into our lives now and that learning how to integrate technology into our daily practices is a necessary tool. Instead of banning laptops, I suggest that we put more thought into how to better integrate them into our classes.

BREAKING UP A LECTURE

Most of the studies discrediting laptops as classroom tools focus on note taking in lecture classes. Consider the following quotation from the New Yorker: “The act of typing effectively turns the note-taker into a transcription zombie, while the imperfect recordings of the pencil-pusher reflect and excite a process of integration, creating more textured and effective modes of recall.” While that’s a fair point, it doesn’t address the fact that note-taking is just one part of learning.

Whether students are taking notes by hand or via laptop, it is important that time is spent in class for students to reflect on and respond to the lecture so that students may better understand and synthesize key points. In other words, the issue may not necessarily be with note-taking but with the lecture format itself. Long lectures without pauses for deliberate review or reflection can often lead to distraction. After all, isn’t doodling flowers on one’s notebook the old-fashioned equivalent to surfing Facebook during class? Distraction can happen with or without technology; minimizing distraction and increasing attention should be our priority.

DIRECTLY USING TECHNOLOGY IN YOUR COURSE

There are many ways to harness possible distraction into an activity that uses technology effectively. Here are two options:

Google Docs

Have small groups of students use Google Docs to write a collaborative piece. This could be a class reflection, a clarification of a key point, or anything else that might benefit from collaboration. Students can then discuss what they wrote with the class.

Poll-Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is a website that allows students to electronically send in answers to questions that you create. You can create quizzes, reflection questions, etc. and view the answers anonymously or even in graph form.

MOVE AROUND THE CLASSROOM

If you are still afraid that students will be peaking at other websites when they should be working, make it a habit to move around the space in the classroom. Make them feel that you are very spatially aware and present and they will be less likely to surf the internet – both for fear of being caught and because they will feel more engaged and connected with you. This suggestion, incidentally, also reduces the amount of flower drawings that might pop up on traditional pen and pencil notes.

FURTHER READING:

“The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom.”  http://The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-case-for-banning-laptops-in-the-classroom

“The Laptop and the Lecture” Study at Cornell University http://www.ugr.es/~victorhs/recinfo/docs/10.1.1.9.9018.pdf

Studies on how Handwriting increases learning: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614524581

“In Defense of Laptops in the Classroom” http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/06/in_defense_of_laptops_in_the_college_classroom.html

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