Banning Laptops in Class?

Sounds like a good idea to me. While we got rid of our wireless Internet in our classrooms after the Christmas break (by unanimous decision of the faculty council), students still bring laptops to class. Just last week one of my colleagues was complaining how a student was clicking away during a presentation by another student — very annoying. I don’t have strong feelings about banning laptops, though nothing irritates me more when I am lecturing (or a student is asking a question, etc.) and a student is clicking away on their laptop in a way that suggests they are NOT taking notes. Of course, if someone is actually taking notes and is not being disruptive to other students, then I don’t have a problem with it.

If you want to read about someone who banned laptops in the classroom, check out this post over at The Volokh Conspiracy.

What do other professors/students think?

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17 Responses to Banning Laptops in Class?

  1. Scott says:

    I suppose the questions for me are: what is the purpose of the classroom environment? Does a laptop help or hinder that purpose? Is it merely note-taking?

    In one instance for sure the banning of laptops would be absolutely appropriate and that is professors that make versions of their class notes available. Any note taking outside of this is just observing the odd striking detail and I wouldn’t think that a laptop is vital for that sort of note taking.

    Maybe a policy of the sort that if you are caught using a laptop for non-class purposes an absent for the day will be marked, and future laptop use will be banned for that student for that class.

    As a student that mostly, usually pays attention, and mostly, usually uses his laptop for school purposes while in class I could abide by this restriction. Though I am not innocent of playing around in class if this was a rule that I agreed to I think it would limit some behaviors.

  2. “clicking away on their laptop in a way that suggests they are NOT taking notes”: can you elucidate, please?

  3. By “clicking away” I mean with one finger or on their mouse, so it is obvious that they are not typing notes.

  4. slaveofone says:

    It would seriously hamper my abilities to take notes and research in class if I couldn’t use my laptop… I even have it set up so I can instantly change to a Hebrew keyboard when necessary (with Greek forthcoming).

    If something has to go–let it be cell phones.

  5. Brad says:

    I have wondered it laptops help create a bit of a cast system of students. After all, attendees who can afford a laptop are almost guaranteed to take better notes and recall the exact words of the professor when writing an essay. In this way, money could actually have an affect on a student’s grade.

  6. tim bulkeley says:

    Better ban pencils and paper too 😉 I used to doodle quite a bit if lectures did not grab my attention! I enjoy students looking things up whether on Wikipedia or JBL while I’m teaching, and having a Bi ble program handy just makes sense.

    Though I’ll accept the phone ban. So far there is little class related that can be done on phones, and the ringing talking and clicking of TXTing can be quite distracting…

  7. tim bulkeley says:

    Ps, the caste system will soon be ended when Intel start selling their US$300 laptops.

  8. I heard part of an interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation this evening with David Cole, the law professor who is the source of the story. He had some interesting points. The one that made me think the most is that, even if we disregard the access to the internet and other distractions easily at hand on the laptop, it encourages students to take notes as if they were stenographers. They become more interested in getting the exact wording. This then cuts down on actual processing of information while in class, and thus leads to less vibrant in-class discussion. I think that is a valid point and may be true for me at times.

    On the other hand, I have found it so incredibly useful to have a laptop in class. Bible programs have already been mentioned… and that for me has become indispensable. But another consideration for me is the vast amounts of paper it saves. All of our “course readers” are electronic. Rather than print out hundreds of pages of articles every quarter, I’d rather read them on my computer and have them on the screen when we talk about them in class. The same is true for students’ papers shared in class, some professors’ syllabi and course notes. For me, it comes down to the resources available on the laptop.

  9. Matt Dabbs says:

    A laptop was crucial to my graduate school experience. I could basically type down every word that was said and it made my study much easier. I really felt I got a lot more out of class that way. It was also clear that some students took advantage of it. You would some times see solitaire being played or people parsing with zhubert or accordance when it was supposed to come from our study. That got on my nerves a little. But all in all, with the right rules in place, I think there is a very valuable place for laptops in class. People just need to be respectful and the boundaries very clear.

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  10. tim bulkeley says:

    Yes, if something must be banned (and why are humans so keen on banning?) let’s ban books in class, especially Bibles, they are far too distracting, students might start reading them instead of listening to our pearls of wisdom… Laptops are far to useful for teachers and students alike to consider banning them!

  11. At this time of year I would prefer to ban students! 🙂

    Don’t get me wrong; what is probably needed are some clear guidelines for laptop use in the classroom that would be included in syllabi. First and foremost at the top of the list is that you can’t do anything that may be distracting to fellow students or the professor. I have no objections to students who actually use them to aid in taking notes or doing research, etc.

  12. Leah JW says:

    I really find all laptop use distracting in class, the clicking of the keys is so incredibly annoying when you’re actually trying to hear what the professor is saying. I usually take notes manually, then I type them out on my computer outside of class time. This has a number of advantages. Unfortunately, I don’t think that a computer ban would go over well with a number of students… Let’s not go overboard here with the sarcasm, though, banning laptops is not at all like banning pens and paper: it’s not that the people aren’t paying attention, it’s that they’re distracting others (including the professor).

  13. Debra Bauslaugh says:

    oh yeah, I should probably add that I have a macbook that I leave at home so I am not writing from a perspective of “bitter student who is mad that she can’t have her own laptop”

  14. Debra Bauslaugh says:

    (I don’t know how my second comment got posted before my first, but here is the first thing I said)

    I would agree with JW. Even when my fellow classmates are actually using their laptops to take notes, its loud and distracting to hear them click away. That plus people with laptops always seem to think it is ok to string their electrical cords about the room so that they will have enough power. I take notes the old fashion way, pencil & paper, and then I re-write them out later so they are more legible. (a great way to study I might add). While I don’t get it word for word, it is still very possible to take great notes without typing.

    laptops are a privilege, not a right. And to top that off, as a student, it is very annoying & distracting when the person in front of you is playing solitaire or surfing the net.

    Finally, laptops are in the way when the class is trying to have a discussion. Sometimes you can’t see peoples faces, or when the class is set up around a table, often the screens create a visual blind spot for students trying to carry on a discussion.

  15. Laptops seem to be a necessary evil these days in the classroom. One thing helpful for my exegesis classes is being able to reference programs like BibleWorks or Anchor Bible Dictionary at the click of a button to do word searches or quick parsing or reference several translations of a verse, etc. all of which can be helpful to crossreference during class. It really helps open up the prof.’s lectures. Many times students can quickly reference a key passage in the original language and shed some light on the discussion at hand.

    As mentioned it is also easier to take notes rather than scribble with the pencil….

    But, yes, it opens up the fact that some students can play games, etc. One student I am thinking of is always playing some stupid word game on his laptop – and this in the middle of advanced Hebrew exegesis! But he seems to pay attention and absorb everything that is going on.

    Maybe in our ADD world it is actually helpful for students to multitask between lecture, note taking, and video games….just a thought…..

  16. Pingback: Codex: Biblical Studies Blogspot » Blog Archive » Classroom Etiquette — Or Lack Thereof!

  17. Eric says:

    I’m a student who does not use a laptop in class. And it honestly annoys me just a little bit that other students do, even if they only use them for note-taking. The truth is, they’re still noisy. My honest preference would be banning them from the classroom. But I expect that too many students think it’s too important for them to be able to use laptops. And if it really helps them that much, then I suppose I’m the one who needs to endure the mild annoyance. But the clicking will only get louder as more and more students start doing it. Maybe when I’m a professor I’ll finally get to have my way and ban them.

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