Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away  
September 23, 2014 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Screens generate distraction - biologically impossible to resist - in a manner akin to second-hand smoke. Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class  -  it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them. [CITATION PROVIDED] I've stopped thinking of students as people who simply make choices about whether to pay attention, and started thinking of them as people trying to pay attention but having to compete with various influences, the largest of which is their own propensity towards involuntary and emotional reaction.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (96 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
[CITATION PROVIDED]

Er, not quite. That citation proves that students multitasking on laptops perform poorly and degrade the learning experience of those around them. Which, well, duh! But that isn't proving that students using laptops who are also actually focusing on the lesson in hand (perhaps using the laptop to take notes, or to read a class text on, or to conduct exercises related to the class etc.) are similarly affected.

This is a bit like linking to study that proves that students who spend class writing notes to pass back and forth do poorly to justify banning pens and paper from the classroom.

It's tough being a student at the moment. We're in such a transitional phase with so many Profs keen to incorporate tech into the classroom (the "flipped classroom" model etc. etc.) and so many others waging jihad against anyone who uses a screen in the classroom. But somehow I don't think the anti-screeners are going to win this one in the longer term.
posted by yoink at 3:50 PM on September 23, 2014 [28 favorites]


Sure, let them bring their computers. Just turn off the wi-fi first.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:52 PM on September 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


I attended college in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, taking notes longhand all the while. I still remember the one student who had a laptop in 1989, and was asked by the teacher to sit in the back of the room, so as not to disturb other students (the sound of the keyboard seems to have been the problem, but we're not talking jackhammers--more like nibbled to death by ducks).

For myself, as a student, using a laptop to take notes improved my attention span, because I love to type (ok, ok), and because I can type faster than I can write. I literally get more out of the class. YMMV.

As a teacher, I'd be more bothered by texting, because I'd know my students were not engaged.

tl;dr What he does and dictates in his classroom is his choice, but ruling out laptops is a really curious bone to pick.
posted by datawrangler at 3:53 PM on September 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


The use of laptops and other electronic devices is a common accommodation for people with disabilities at all levels of education, and this kind of action on the part of a teacher further stigmatizes any child, teen, or adult who categorically needs to use a laptop or iPad to move through that teacher's class. Get off your high horse, professor.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:59 PM on September 23, 2014 [34 favorites]


OK, here's a cite of recent research finding that taking notes on laptop is worse than handwritten:

Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014. The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard.
posted by svenx at 4:01 PM on September 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


Sure, let them bring their computers. Just turn off the wi-fi first.

Ha! I'm on my university's faculty advisory committee to the poor beleaguered IT staff and this is one of the most common requests from faculty. As is "make the wi-fi much more powerful so everyone in the room can use it!" What (some) faculty really dream of is a kill-switch: "just let me turn off the wi-fi and the cellphone networks for just this lecture room." I like thinking about how that could be implemented--a sort of collapsible Faraday cage that deploys around the room at the push of a button.

Of course, killing people's cellphone access gets you into some seriously heavy legal complications and the whole thing's utterly unfeasible. I've noticed, though, that over the years the "kill switch" requests seem to be dwindling and the "MOAR WI-FI" requests seem to be growing (especially as we're getting departments who are requiring all students to have tablets and teachers who are using Top Hat and such like instant-feedback tools in class).
posted by yoink at 4:02 PM on September 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


OK, here's a cite showing that taking notes on laptop is worse than handwritten:

Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014. The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard.


That's hardly a slam dunk study. Mostly it's suggesting that people need to be taught how to use their laptops to take notes (i.e., not to be fooled into thinking that note-taking is transcription), not that laptops are an inherently poor tool for note-taking.
posted by yoink at 4:05 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I did all of undergrad taking notes by longhand. Then went to law school, where all my notes were taken on a laptop. The difference was enormous. With longhand, I could only get the basic important stuff down before my hand cramped up, and good luck reading my handwriting / making sense of diagrams later. With a laptop, not only was I able to get the core ideas that were presented in class down, but I was able to get little nuances, parenthetical stuff, branching outcomes of different situations and rules. And I was structuring it all in outline form as I went, which structured the notes in my head as well. I was corralling and arranging a vast amount of info on the screen and in my mind.

I also played a lot of Tetris and Minesweeper. It didn't hurt me or anyone else too much, I don't think.
posted by naju at 4:05 PM on September 23, 2014 [17 favorites]


My handwriting is awful and taking notes cramps up my hands and leaves me with useless, unreadable, poorly organized notes. Dear Jebus I would have done so much better in elementary and high school if I could have taken notes on a laptop instead. I think this is definitely a case of it depends on the person.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:05 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


"...who categorically needs to use a laptop or iPad to move through that teacher's class. Get off your high horse, professor."

I agree with this in principle. My kid has a learning difficulty and has found that a laptop helps him work, type faster than write etc. However, I'm sure the teacher would make exceptions for specific cases.

And as "for high horses", Hermione Granger, as someone who wrote with a quill and ink onto parchment at Hogwarts, I don't think you are in a place to judge :)
posted by greenhornet at 4:06 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh, and screw cursive!
posted by Drinky Die at 4:06 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm spending the first week of class providing students with some studies on the effect of devices on note taking and letting them do some guided research with a librarian on the subject. Their first short paper is a persuasive argument pro or con devices for note taking. Then week 2 we will discuss... Laptops in the back, none, or whatever goes.
I'll alert them as to device times... Collaborative activities or research in class.
Fwiw, my class is flipped. And about social effects of technology and social media.
I'm hoping they make a good choice.
posted by k8t at 4:07 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Laptops are great for note taking as long as the notes are all text. Any subject that requires pictures or diagrams or math symbols and you'll have to use pen and paper.
posted by octothorpe at 4:09 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think this is a wonderful idea to try, and that strong reactions against it are often the clearest indicators that something like this is probably necessary to consider more carefully. It's like that saying from Jurassic Park, "Our scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." The pace of technological development has outpaced serious and deep discussions about how it should be used in the classroom, or whether a slippery slope to an unhealthy classroom environment should be more carefully considered. We just assumed it was "all good" as new a flashy things keep happening to make our notetaking and research more immediate.

Now we are at a place where it's like trying to get the horses back into the barn if we want to even consider anything different, and professors become the bad people for asking for us to rewind the clock a bit and simply consider that they have something pedagogically different to try. And the backlash seems to be more over senses of entitlement that get attached to technology such that we almost can't imagine a professor having a desire to try something different in ways that aren't personally invasive to our personal liberty. And whatever we think about technology in the classroom, I find that knee-jerk response by students about their right to their stuff more troubling and indicative of deeper issues than anything else.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:10 PM on September 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


Most of the chem and math and other diagramming students, on my campus at least, use tablets and styluses.
posted by k8t at 4:10 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love tech. I love my laptop and my phone. I assure you, as a university professor, the vast majority of the students are fucking around and it distracts others.

Also, my current class has no exam to prep for. Weekly reflection papers shouldn't require laptop notes for the 2/3rd of one class session I spend lecturing.
And yes they have digital books, but they have no need to access those while I'm lecturing.
posted by k8t at 4:14 PM on September 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


I've struggled with this. By all accounts, I am a good teacher - I have own teaching awards, designed my classes to be interactive and discussion-based, etc. - and my students are smart and engaging. I have always allowed laptops and other devices, and it clear that it has at least two bad effects.

First, it is distracting for other students. When a laptop is around, people look at it. This hurts everyone, and studies back it up.

Second, no matter how engaging the class, students, often the smartest students, feel that they can multitask effectively. They can't. They check their phones, or clearly are checking email (oh, yes, we can tell) and this pulls them out of discussions and lowers the quality of the class.

Many of my colleagues don't allow laptops (this is pretty common in business schools, since they are discussion-based), and I have thought about the same. If you haven't read the article, it offers some really great points that I hadn't thought of, including the fact that it is almost impossible to not be distracted, because the is the whole goal of modern app design. I have to think more about this...
posted by blahblahblah at 4:19 PM on September 23, 2014 [18 favorites]


Math symbols are no big deal. After a little practice, I learned most of the Word shortcuts for various symbols and could copy down any formula as fast as the professor could write it on the board. I probably could have been even faster had I learned any TeX code.

Banning electronic devices would have made the courses I took in the past few years more difficult. I had all my textbooks on the iPad. Having the professor's powerpoints or class notes in front of me was also great because I'm the sort of person who drifts off far into the ether after too long of a lecture and this really helped in keeping me focused. The note taking was better on a laptop but that's kind of a wash because I'd just use the notes to remind me of what I needed to cover in the textbook. Written notes probably would have been just as effective, though more of a pain to create.
posted by honestcoyote at 4:21 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Law school really was a phantasmagoria of rows and rows of screens mostly filled with Youtube videos, Facebook & FB Messenger, iChat, Reddit, Pinterest, Amazon, blogs, and various listicle aggregators. And, sadly, Google searches and Wikipedia articles on landmark cases and major legal concepts assigned for the day, tucked mostly offscreen as a hedge against cold calls.

Llewellyn wept.

(Whereas I look forward to litigating against those people.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:31 PM on September 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


And yes they have digital books, but they have no need to access those while I'm lecturing.

I imagine that rather depends on your subject. When I lecture, I insist that the students have the texts I'm discussing in front of them. If they've got them in e-form, then they need a screen. (Personally I wish they'd have them in paper form so they can scribble marginal annotations on them--I think that's more effective and quicker than you can do with screen devices so far, though that, too, will change; but students are very cost-conscious and if they feel they can get away with sourcing the texts online they will).
posted by yoink at 4:32 PM on September 23, 2014


I would very much like to encourage my students to use LiveScribe. All the benefits of handwritten notes, none of the drawbacks of laptops, and no danger of missing anything. But I'm uncomfortable suggesting something that costs money, even though I have no financial interest in the company/device/vendor/anything else, so I don't.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:34 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


I should note that I really think laptops in the classroom can be okay for some situations and integrated well into the process. Professors should be able to chose if this is an asset for the class. What bothers me the most is the visceral reaction that surfaces when a professor wants to have a class process without all of the electronic connectivity. It's like there can't be differences of opinion on the proliferation of technology and what it means for a particular pedagogical preference anymore. You have to write articles like this to defend yourself, and you'll still have detractors who couch it in terms of personal rights.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:38 PM on September 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


What about blocking wi-fi signal within classrooms, as a compromise? Or is that too drastic?
posted by naju at 4:42 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's like there can't be differences of opinion on the proliferation of technology and what it means for a particular pedagogical preference anymore. You have to write articles like this to defend yourself, and you'll still have detractors that couch it in terms of personal rights.

Well, whatever way you slice it the Profs who say "no laptops in MY classroom" are, in fact, saying "I do not trust you to use these tools responsibly." They're not, in the vast majority of cases, worried about the effect of the laptop in the hands of a genuinely responsible, engaged, student. They're worried about the effect of the laptop in the hands of the student who is bored, or uninterested or otherwise distracted. So it's not simply a "pedagogical preference"--it's a judgment passed on the class, collectively, that it's probably not capable of resisting the temptations to distraction offered by their laptops. Now, it's probably true, in fact, that they're not (or, at least, that a sufficient number of them are not), but that doesn't make that any less a problematic basis for the professor/student relationship. It's immediately putting the students in an essentially infantilized position with respect to the professor.

It's the same problem, of course, with things like turnitin and so forth (and the reason I've never, quite, been able to bring myself to use that). While I can entirely understand the position that says "for the greater good of the whole group I need to impose these restrictions which strip the students of their agency as independent adults" I also know just how pissed off I would have been (as a student who would not have used my laptop irresponsibly in class if they'd been available back in those dark days; and as a student who never dreamed of plagiarizing a paper) if such nannyish rules had been imposed upon me.
posted by yoink at 4:49 PM on September 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


What about blocking wi-fi signal within classrooms, as a compromise? Or is that too drastic?

Technologically improbable. Not impossible, but unless you are teaching in a faraday cage probably not an answer.

I have professors who have grad students at the back of the class who use laser pointers to shine on the screens of students using laptops for something other than class notes.

As a technologist I am morally opposed to technological solutions to management problems. Have employees (or students) who can't manage to stay away from sites they aren't supposed to visit? Deal with them. Don't go whining to IT to block websites or to lock down laptops.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:50 PM on September 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think part of the difficulty with writing is that it's taught too young or without enough accommodation for children who need extra help with motor skills or spatial/visual skills. I absolutely was too young, motor-skills wise, to learn cursive, so my handwriting unreadable until I set about correcting it in high school. I also had very poor recall from lessons until I was able to start handwriting my notes effectively. A computer wouldn't have helped-- it's too easy to go into "transcription" mode and not "summary" mode when I don't have to physically move a pen.

I get that people type more than they write these days (I don't-- I don't have access to a computer at work) but it seems like you ought to keep yourself versatile in case of a power failure or a workplace where you really do have to write.

There is a solution, it's better and more flexible handwriting training for all kids. Don't teach Palmer-- t's a copy hand that is basically simplified copperplate, and ill-suited to fast, clear writing. Teach one of the newer hands that are more adaptable to individual quirks. One of those quirks may be a preference for computers...sure, whatever, take notes in lipstick on a goatskin or an ipad or whatever, it's the student's problem. I still think neglecting to teach effective handwriting impoverished learning both in terms of note-taking skills and cognitively-spatially.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:50 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Fact: 89.7 percent of students using electronics in class are doing nothing related to that class.
posted by cccorlew at 4:51 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Easy solution:

"Every internet connected device has a unique MAC address assigned to the internet interface. Using your device to do anything unapproved in this class will result in no attendance points for that class. So if you want to surf the internet stay home. If you surf it here you should have stayed home."

Where I work every device is assigned to a user account ID in order to use the network, so this wouldn't be a completely idle threat. Mostly though it would be a bluff, since unless a crime is committed I am unlikely to go through those logs to see who when where and when.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:55 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


>That's hardly a slam dunk study. Mostly it's suggesting that people need to be taught how to use their laptops to take notes (i.e., not to be fooled into thinking that note-taking is transcription), not that laptops are an inherently poor tool for note-taking.

Actually, in Study 2 of that paper they specifically instructed students not to take verbatim notes with the laptop, but still found the same disadvantage.
posted by svenx at 4:57 PM on September 23, 2014


"Every internet connected device has a unique MAC address assigned to the internet interface. Using your device to do anything unapproved in this class will result in no attendance points for that class. So if you want to surf the internet stay home. If you surf it here you should have stayed home."

So, privileging rich kids where Mom/Dad doesn't care about the tablet's onboard data plan costs over those who economize by using your wifi, huh?
posted by tyllwin at 5:00 PM on September 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


So, privileging rich kids where Mom/Dad doesn't care about the tablet's onboard data plan costs over those who economize by using your wifi, huh?

I don't think it's worth getting to that point, outrage wise. If I asked the IT staff to spy on my students' computer activities I'd be greeted with a hollow laugh and shown the door. Student privacy laws are very strict--sometimes absurdly so. IT staff may well have the technical capability to do such spying, but implementing it would cause a bunch of heads to roll if anyone found out.
posted by yoink at 5:05 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


record your lectures, have the students watch them before class and then use class time to answer questions, work through examples and have activities that get the students more involved in learning
posted by sineater at 5:08 PM on September 23, 2014 [14 favorites]


Well, whatever way you slice it the Profs who say "no laptops in MY classroom" are, in fact, saying "I do not trust you to use these tools responsibly." They're not, in the vast majority of cases, worried about the effect of the laptop in the hands of a genuinely responsible, engaged, student. They're worried about the effect of the laptop in the hands of the student who is bored, or uninterested or otherwise distracted. So it's not simply a "pedagogical preference"--it's a judgment passed on the class, collectively, that it's probably not capable of resisting the temptations to distraction offered by their laptops. Now, it's probably true, in fact, that they're not (or, at least, that a sufficient number of them are not), but that doesn't make that any less a problematic basis for the professor/student relationship. It's immediately putting the students in an essentially infantilized position with respect to the professor.

I'm not sure I would look at it this way (and it really is all in the presentation of the policy), but I won't argue with the fact that students internalize it this way. As a professor, I would ask whether a particular environment is a foregone conclusion based on a statistically probable chance that there will be enough students misusing technology to cause distractions, and whether I want that particular environment present in the classroom. I actually don't care where it comes from, in a moral sense. And choosing an alternative way of teaching that allows for less distractions as a principle is in fact a pedagogical preference, I think. I'm pretty okay with that, even if there is an initial relational hit with students in how it's perceived. If I think about this in terms of student flourishing, it is perhaps even precious and worthy of protecting, even if students feel (inappropriately) restricted at first. The right answer is that they should come to terms with it, if they understand why it is being done. If they don't, I'm not sure I'm overly concerned with them feeling infantilized, because candidly, they have some growing up to do. I think it's one of those things where the path to good things sometimes feels like a hard thing, and professors should at least have the freedom to investigate this as a possibility.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:09 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yoink, why are the new restrictions of this sort somehow more offensive than the old ones? I mean as a student, you were surely subject to many restrictions that forbid you to do things that would have posed no problem if done by a responsible/honest student, but all students were forbidden to do them because they could and would be used dishonestly by others:

For example, it's common for students not to be allowed to have notes/books on their desks during tests, in large classes it's common to check student IDs for students writing tests, it's common to collect back tests (the questions) at the end of a test, it's common to have restrictions on leaving the room during a test.

For all of those things, it's true, just like with laptops and not-uploading papers, that a responsible student could do these things without any problematic or dishonest behaviour being involved. However, they are forbidden because some students would engage in dishonest behaviours with these options. The proportion of students who would do so is probably much less than the proportion who use laptops for non-class related activities. Did you feel like those restrictions infantalize students in their relationship with the professor?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:10 PM on September 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


This is an interesting problem, and one that I face every time I walk into my classroom. I'm loathe to flat-out forbid screens, since while no classroom is a democracy (when I explain this to my students, I usually tell them that I am a benign dictator, or maybe an enlightened despot), I find teaching wholly by diktat to be rather unpalatable. For the past year or so, I've been experimenting with asking those who want to use screens of any kind to sit in the last few rows of the classroom. I have been explaining this by pointing to studies (which, of course, I can't find right now) that suggest that even wholly legitimate use of screens is distracting, not just to the student using the device, but to those who sit nearby (and this distraction is linked to lower grades, both for those using screens and those sitting near them). I haven't yet figured out an easy way to uncover whether this strategy has any result, but if comments on student evaluations are to be believed (an open question, says I), no screen-users have taken umbrage and non screen-users report that it helps them stay focused on the lecture and discussion.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 5:13 PM on September 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


I don't think it's worth getting to that point, outrage wise.

Oh, do I sound outraged? Apologies if it has that tone. I'm not at all. I was trying for more of a cynical smile. It was just the first way to get around the edict that occurred to me, and I couldn't help myself from delivering the wisecrack.

In the case above of the laser pointers, I'd be hard put not to let the laptop slide to the ground, scream, clutch one eye and howl "what did you DO?" as I looked and thrashed frantically around.

God, I'm glad I'm older now.
posted by tyllwin at 5:13 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Notebooks generate distraction - biologically impossible to resist - in a manner akin to second-hand smoke. Allowing pen and paper use in class is like allowing canvas and paint use in class  -  it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.

Okay, it doesn't "I fixed that for you" well, but a bored student is a bored student. If you're going to slack off, the tool you use to do that isn't going to change that. If someone's bored, they're doodling, they're fidgeting, they're tapping their pen or clicking it or whatever, and clicking/drawing/etc is also distracting.

But then - I'm biased. I was the person outed by a professor for being the disabled student because I got to use my laptop as an accommodation tool.

Laptops are tools. Teach people to use them correctly, teach good and appropriate note-taking and then catch up with the modern world because "AMG YOU CAN'T HAVE A LAPTOP" is going to be really hard to make stick when there are other schools that hand them out to students to use in classrooms and encourage or require their use.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:14 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Here's a link to an article about the study that links laptop use to lower grades for those who sit nearby.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 5:19 PM on September 23, 2014


Sorry, but this strikes me as horribly pretentious.

I mean, yes i might as well disclose that i'm one of those learning disability students who used a laptop... But that doesn't effect why i think that.

This just stinks to high heaven of the "things were better in the good old days when men were men and women dressed like Joan Holloway" type of garbage. It reminds me of that pretentious coffee shop that allowed ipads, but not laptops because they "create a barrier between people that distances them socially".

It's a bunch of specious garbage. If you want to ban laptops just do it, but don't make up a bunch of crap to support your decision and use as a "checkmate" type club against any criticism you face.

The fact that he felt the need to make up this stupid reasoning and try and back it up is kind of sad.

And seriously, it just drips with tech-hating good-old-days grossness.
posted by emptythought at 5:24 PM on September 23, 2014 [10 favorites]


Actually, no, here is the study, and it cites multitasking, not laptop use.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:26 PM on September 23, 2014


And seriously, it just drips with tech-hating good-old-days grossness.

Boy, do I love me some good tech. I buy and use way too much of it. But I also really hate what it does to the classroom experience at times. Even if the reasoning of the article doesn't jive, I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that is enough to fuel my agreement with his general thesis for quite a while.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:27 PM on September 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


And seriously, it just drips with tech-hating good-old-days grossness.

Really?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:28 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


I wonder how much it would cost to make/sell a locked-down chromebook type laptop that only allows word-processing and diagramming (with a stylus, say). No wireless connection. Later you could transfer your notes to your real computer via USB.
It might be better to say "you can't have a laptop in my classroom unless it's one of these $100 eduLaptop dealies", which might be a reasonable amount for the students who really prefer to take a lot of notes (and probably cheaper than any two textbooks they'll have to buy), than to outright ban keyboards for note-taking.
posted by uosuaq at 5:31 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


A locked down laptop would still single out students who could otherwise obfuscate their disabilities and either put them at a disadvantage or mean they're advertising their special access unwillingly. (Yes, there are disabilities you can't hide. It does not mean those of us with invisible ones should be required to disclose them to the world.)

Plus, if it's got USB so you can get your notes off of it then I can just pop in my handy USB wifi card and then I have internet anyway, so that's a bit moot.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:35 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm guessing that the wifi-over-USB problem is solvable, but you make a good point about making disabilities more noticeable. On the other hand, if I were a professor banning laptops, I hope I wouldn't be such an asshole as to ban them for people who actually need them because they have disabilities, and in *that* classroom the people with laptops would be even more noticeable. The locked-down laptop was just a thought, though.
posted by uosuaq at 5:42 PM on September 23, 2014


There is no way that I could get that Mac address thing to work on my campus with the way that the wifi is set up and with privacy laws.

I totally get the disability argument and that is the sole reason I haven't done anything til now. And if a student has a disability that will automatically mean my policy will be back row for laptop note takers.
I am just so sick of this. As I mentioned my class is flipped. They'll use them. During activities.
posted by k8t at 5:45 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'll take a different approach on this matter: Lectures are an absolutely *horrible* teaching tool.

Sure, it's convenient to blame lazy/easily-distractible students, but the format simply isn't effective, engaging, or motivating for a very large portion of students. There's a whole lot of research on this particular subject, and it's fairly compelling. Students do benefit from lectures, but not when the lecture is the primary channel of instruction -- educational outcomes for students below the ~90the percentile are markedly better under the tutorial model.

The American academic system doesn't help things either -- the academic hiring process rarely even *considers* if candidates are effective teachers or levturers. Once professors are hired, their careers can only advance by spending as little time in the classroom as possible. Add in the culture of infantilization (laser pointers - wtf), and you get a lecture hall full of bored, demotivated students who aren't learning anything.

Disclaimer: I work in ed-tech, and personally had excellent experiences with the tutorial system. We are very interested in figuring out how to grant students the advantages of the tutorial model without incurring the high labor costs that typically go with it.
posted by schmod at 5:47 PM on September 23, 2014 [23 favorites]


What do all of you who teach do for students who talk, doodle, click pens loudly, interrupt lectures? Why can't you do similar things for students who are distracting with laptop use?
posted by FritoKAL at 5:47 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Great article. http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2014/08/25/why-im-asking-you-not-to-use-laptops/
posted by k8t at 5:48 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Fair enough, FritoKAL, the main issue in the study is multitasking rather than the technology itself. But though I know the difference between anecdote and data, personal experience tells me that the vast majority of students do not have the willpower not to check email or Facebook or whatever while taking class notes. Hell, I use my laptop during faculty meetings and it takes almost as much willpower not to check my email as it does not to bum a smoke at a boozy party. Ok, bad comparison, but I figure if the urge is damn near overpowering for me, it's probably not too different for my students. But as I say, I don't have an easy solution or a silver bullet. Flipping the classroom works for some things but not for others, and I remain convinced that lecturing and notetaking has a valuable place in the classroom, when tempered with other pedagogical means. I guess part of the problem is the question of screens in the classroom is closely bound up with other issues of pedagogy, civil rights (I'm thinking here of disabilities), social class, and more.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 5:48 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Doodling is different from last night's episode of game of thrones.
posted by k8t at 5:49 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


The guy sitting next to me talking to his friend who sits next to him about last night's game of thrones is not that different from last night's game of thrones, -and- he's a spoiling asshat to boot. What do you do to that guy? Why couldn't you do it if he's watching instead of conversing?
posted by FritoKAL at 5:50 PM on September 23, 2014


One can be on a computer and look like they are taking notes and it is socially acceptable. Talking during class isn't socially acceptable, so it rarely happens. When it does, I, the one lecturing, notice and stop talking as to draw attention to the interupter. I can't police the laptop video watching though. Although my colleagues in bigger classes have TAs that can.
posted by k8t at 5:54 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Every internet connected device has a unique MAC address assigned to the internet interface. Using your device to do anything unapproved in this class will result in no attendance points for that class. So if you want to surf the internet stay home. If you surf it here you should have stayed home."

I swear that wasn't me browsing to www.example.com! It was www.example.com's free app which I have installed on my tablet, and it automatically establishes an https session with the site to pull content and share marketing information.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:00 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maybe the answer is for teachers to learn the signs of a distracted laptop user (and having taught some some seminars at work - identifying the distracted laptop user versus the engaged laptop user comes down to a few things - eye contact, appropriate typing intervals, facial expression, participating in discussions) and treat them like any other type of distracted student. And maybe I'm the only person who feels this way but the guy sitting next to me clicking. his. pen. is 45356763467% more distracting than the guy wasting his tuition money by watching GoT in the back.

Banning laptops is extreme and ableist, and going to be increasingly more and more difficult as technology advances (I would like to see someone try to ban someone's google glass that's attached to their prescription lenses, or their wifi enabled watch) Asking laptop users to sit in the back is a so-so solution, because it will only work while part of the class uses a laptop, or while laptop students can all sit in the back. (A visually impaired laptop user may not be able to sit in the back, and may require a laptop, for example)

Maybe part of the solution is lessening or eliminating lectures or big classroom lectures. As schmod said, the lecture method isn't even all that effective (schmod, do you have citations for that? - because I would love to glue them to a few colleagues faces)

Distracting your classmates by watching youtube videos is a shit move, yes. But treating college students (who are mostly adults in age and legal status even if most of the world treats them like idiot children) like idiot children is just going to earn their resentment - and that doesn't even take into account those of us in classes who are well past the standard 18-23 college age range.

Banning laptops isn't a good solution. Laptops are a symptom.
posted by FritoKAL at 6:07 PM on September 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


If the professor wants to teach a class and discourage laptop use, the professor should find a creative way to discourage laptop use. Like teaching the class underwater.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:07 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


How about a wide-angle closed-circuit camera in the back of the room. Students might think twice about spending the hour browsing Facebook if they knew the teacher or professor could see as much...and then call on them.
posted by jedicus at 6:09 PM on September 23, 2014


I am 100% sure that closed-circuit cameras good enough to catch if you're on the bookface on your laptop would also risk being an enormous violation of privacy - and possibly FERPA when it also catches students checking their grades, using disability accommodation software, writing confidential evaluations of their professor...
posted by FritoKAL at 6:12 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


The use of laptops and other electronic devices is a common accommodation for people with disabilities at all levels of education, and this kind of action on the part of a teacher further stigmatizes any child, teen, or adult who categorically needs to use a laptop or iPad to move through that teacher's class. Get off your high horse, professor.

That's a bit insensitive to people whose disability treatment involves making the classroom as quiet and non-distracting as possible. The better solution is to let the professor decide under what rules the classroom functions best, then determine how to make allowances for disabilities.
posted by michaelh at 6:21 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's a good thing I'm not a professor. I'd ban laptops, cell phones, and even digital voice recorders. I'd discourage excessive note taking, too. I'd suggest that one's notes be limited to basic outlines and to particularly intriguing factoids or queries for further investigation.

Then I would tell students what I was told by more than one prof as I went through college: after class, find a bit of time to write out a one page recap of the lecture--in one's own words because you'll learn more that way. The process of synthesizing a lecture this way makes for an active mind, and the mind is a lawful power.
posted by CincyBlues at 6:23 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


That isn't how disability accommodation works, michaelh. The professor doesn't determine the allowances or if they are going to grant them.
posted by FritoKAL at 6:24 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


The problem becomes more complicated if we consider the issue of scale. Setting aside the fact that I don't think all lectures are necessarily ineffective, the rising numbers that many of us are expected to handle in the classroom, especially if we teach at public universities, means that it is logistically impossible to do anything BUT lecture. I regularly teach intro classes of 100+ -- and these are considered rather small by the standards of my large, state university (and even within my own department, for that matter...). The material I teach (I am in the humanities) does not lend itself at all to technological fixes like clickers and whatnot, and it's nearly impossible to "flip" the classroom and get the students teaching each other if (1) the class is too big to ensure that they all watched the youtube lecture or did the reading or whatever, (2) I've been assigned one of those auditorium lecture halls where the seats are screwed to the ground facing the podium and me. In this situation, I'm very hard pressed to find means of presenting the material that doesn't involve at least some lecturing, and lecturing necessarily means taking notes, which brings us back to the original problem of screens and distractions and what a responsible instructor is supposed to do in this situation.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 6:24 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Distracting your classmates by watching youtube videos is a shit move, yes. But treating college students (who are mostly adults in age and legal status even if most of the world treats them like idiot children) like idiot children is just going to earn their resentment - and that doesn't even take into account those of us in classes who are well past the standard 18-23 college age range.

I'm actually considering the idea that a no laptop policy may serve as a pretty effective filtering move that will provide the kind of students who I want in the class over all. If a genuinely effective policy for managing the tone of a classroom is internalized as treating them like children with no hope of getting over this severe insult oh god help us all, then I'm okay thinking that I wouldn't want that person in class, because honestly, that just is a childish response. It's a lack of proper academic virtue that is fundamental for good learning. It reflects "the classroom experience is a product to be purchased and I'm the buyer" mindset rather than the classroom experience is a place to be respected at the discretion of the professor. Students shouldn't be fragile flowers with such a lack of imagination that they can't envision a place in which technology doesn't rule as king.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:25 PM on September 23, 2014 [14 favorites]


I'm a student with a visual disability who has it in my accommodations that I'm allowed to use tech in class. And my disability specialist has told me if any professor says I can't have my technology, she will talk to them. Maybe the others like me are a minority, but I hate people knowing I have accommodations. And if there's a blanket policy that laptops aren't allowed and I'm using one, it immediately draws attention to the fact. So I'm not a fan of this at all. I hate being a special snowflake.

I can't sit in the back because then I can't see any information presented on a board, or a demonstration or whatever.

I also have an accommodation to have all documents sent to me in electronic form. Sometimes I need to reference these during class - it's nice to just open my laptop and not need to hold papers 2 inches from my face. My laptop means I can just function as a normal human being, I'm not straining my eyes, or pretending I can read that diagram on the powerpoint.

I've spent a lot of years pretending I can read things, and then having to work twice as hard. It is so nice now that I finally registered with disability services - I'm not fighting to just be able to make out things everyone else can see without a problem.

And when those accommodations mean I don't stick out, that no one besides the professor knows I have low vision? That's a big thing for me.
posted by Aranquis at 6:29 PM on September 23, 2014 [22 favorites]


I'll take a different approach on this matter: Lectures are an absolutely *horrible* teaching tool.

Yep. For that 1% of professors who are fantastic lecturers, they can ban laptops or do whatever else they want: they've earned it. For the rest, the lecture format itself is fatally flawed.
posted by shivohum at 6:58 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much it would cost to make/sell a locked-down chromebook type laptop that only allows word-processing and diagramming (with a stylus, say). No wireless connection. Later you could transfer your notes to your real computer via USB.

My kiddo is autistic and uses one of these during school hours to take notes and any other in-class writing. He then transfers it to a flash drive and prints it out at home. Since 6th graders here don't generally have their own laptops/tablets in school it probably is a bit stigmatizing, but less so than hourly meltdowns over handwriting tasks.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:06 PM on September 23, 2014


Students with laptops will distract other students? Don't the majority of students these days use laptops or tablets?
posted by I-baLL at 7:36 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


The reason why I changed my laptop/tablet policy to please sit in the back was complaints by other students. It wasn't just the people watching anime, or playing various games, it was the distraction of the screens for some. So it's not always coming from the Voice of Professorial Authority, which is pretty much increasingly not a thing that exists.

And for those who think this is about the evils of lecturing, this sort of stuff also occurs in seminars and discussion or lab based classes. And if I have my computer or tablet with me at a meeting I always end up checking email and not hearing some important point, so I'd be astonished if even committed and engaged students were resisting the siren call of the Internets. (Not that I am some paragon of virtue, more that I grew up without all of this around all the time and I still find it overwhelmingly alluring to just go and check my email/messages. If I'd always had access to the technology, I'd never let it go.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:45 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


One unintended consequence of banning screens in class:

if the student has a learning disability, and OALA gives them permission to use their computer in class to take notes, then they will effectively be announcing that they have a learning disability to their classmates. And thats fine if they want to do that, but that's their business. I tell my students on the first day that I have ADHD, and that I want them to go to OALA and use all the resources at their disposal -- it's their legal right, and it's there for them, and I want them to succeed. But if I ban the equipment, I just worry I make it marginally more costly for them to come to class and use these resources. So I decided to just tell the students to not use screens in my class because it's a big waste of time, but it's their choice.
posted by scunning at 7:54 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I do distracting things on my laptop in lectures because I seem to have no ability to be talked at for more than 30 minutes without falling asleep. Missing 2 minutes worth of points due to distraction is better than missing 10-15 due to lack of consciousness. Heck, it can be even worse with topics I'm interested in because there seems to be a very fine line at some point between imagining what the professor is saying and dreaming about it.

I wish there was some more socially acceptable ways I could be mostly functional in a lecture format, but the only other thing I've found is drinking enough caffeine that I'm going to be up past 2 AM, and that's not feasible on any long term basis.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:56 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I lecture for 2/3rd of 1 of 2 weekly class sessions.
Also I haven't had a student with a disability request for a laptop since 2009. (Coincidence I realize...). And if I did, as I said earlier, I would make it a laptop in the back policy. If the student was like the poster here and had to be in front I would have an anything goes policy.
And yes, I politely tap students who are obviously screwing around while I am lecturing and I remember repeat offenders when a grade is on the edge between two marks.

Will update after this first no laptop term.
posted by k8t at 8:05 PM on September 23, 2014


different rules for different pedagogy. Some pedagogy requires conversation and small group problem solving, not note taking. In such situations, laptops are distracting.

My friend teaches a class where she wants the class to focus on the discussion, but they also need notes. As a compromise one student takes the notes each class for the whole group. That student may use whatever method they choose. The professor also records the lecture and makes an MP3 available for later reference. No laptops except for the note taker.

Apparently there is a side benefit that everyone learns about the learning styles and study techniques of their peers, which can give them ideas to improve their own notes and records.
posted by chapps at 9:13 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


SpacemanStix: Even if the reasoning of the article doesn't jive, I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that is enough to fuel my agreement with his general thesis for quite a while.

I think this is one of those things, like "sugar makes kids hyper!" which while proven to not be true repeatedly, just makes such sense to a lot of people that they keep beating the drum to death to "fluoride in water is evil!" levels of un-logic.

I mean, as i said, i've always used a laptop in class and would get an allowance to use one if they banned them, and i think there's a lot of people like me who while they haven't had to specifically seek out special accommodation most of the time would suffer or fail if they were forced to take normal notes. What needs to be addressed here is bad behavior. Hate the player, not the game.

If only i had a penguin: Really?

Yes, really. Just because of what he's written about, what field he's in, what he's worked on, etc doesn't preclude him from harboring those sorts of attitudes. I had several professors with those sorts of attitudes while i was in a network engineering program. One of them was in the class you took as a prereq for the cisco CCNA/CCNP stuff. They were still totally backwards about that and had really weird ideas about it.


As i said in my first post, i conceptually have no problem with banning laptops in class. Just come up with some reasons that don't stink and sound like specious pseudo/bad science.
posted by emptythought at 9:48 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, and screw cursive!

You're one of those commies who no longer want to teach this so America stops being able to read the Constitution, helping the inevitable takeover by your Chinese masters, aren't you?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:06 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Learning the Chinese writing system in order to continue communicating strikes me as one of the greatest possible nightmares as a bad handwriting person.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:14 PM on September 23, 2014


I do distracting things on my laptop in lectures because I seem to have no ability to be talked at for more than 30 minutes without falling asleep.

Sounds like a friend of mine who wound up being diagnosed with narcolepsy, which, much like Tourette's, is badly misrepresented in media for comic effect.
posted by El Mariachi at 11:58 PM on September 23, 2014


Metafilter: Sorry, but this strikes me as horribly pretentious.
Metafilter: Hate the player, not the game.

And Finally

Metafilter: In this situation, I'm very hard pressed to find means of presenting the material that doesn't involve at least some lecturing, and lecturing necessarily means taking notes, which brings us back to the original problem of screens and distractions and what a responsible instructor is supposed to do in this situation.

Classrooms are a teaching space, but the individual subject of that space matters very little to the "lesson" of the classroom. Classrooms, by their very design, are about learning how to recognize and respond to authority. Oh, but most importantly, classrooms are about how to interact with authority.

Distraction (of the individualized type not the intrusion of other people's concentration type), in turn, is the enemy of authority and must be smote from the presence of authority. But authority just sucks at teaching anything to anyone. Authority shapes behavior. And as was already pointed out, this is an issue of behavior and not one of learning.

So if you want to make a rule, make a rule. If you want to tell people how they can behave in a shared space you are the steward and, marginally, in control over, then go ahead. But be prepared to witness the very short distance the power of authority is able to travel across empty space. Distraction lives within the heads of the distracted.

So don't pretend that this is about "learning" when you seek to modify the behavior of adults. You're not a teacher. You're just the garrison of a concept that doesn't have the power to cross a room unaided.

tl:dr Compelling is more effective than Controlling.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 12:23 AM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


This topic is fascinatingly relevant to me right now from a different angle. I have always been good at self learning, and made quite a career of it in the web design and development. For "Reasons", I am no longer able to work in that field. At the moment not at all. So I thought I'd take some time to study a new discipline. Biology, a subject of long-held an interest in and took classes in long ago. I'm trying to use MIT is open courseware alongside a proper textbook. And I am discovering that I can no longer focus on longform text. I need distractions to be able to read longform text. I'm frustrated, because I used to learn this way quite well. But the last several years I have gone from me consuming every piece of information to scanning bits of information, jumping from source to source to pick up little details and follow that all the threads. Sitting down to read an informational source is proving to be exceedingly difficult for me.

It's early in the process but two things that have helped me is traditional note taking while reading, and having a screen on hand to go off on tangents. Without these tangents, I get bored reading big blocks of text- even though I am enjoying it.

I realize that isn't the exact thesis of this article but it does make me wonder about the studies that suggest Internet usage is changing how our brains are wired. And in a classroom setting, I can't imagine that is a good thing. Screens are just too easy to look at. It's like the cereal box you can't help but read only glowing and more attention demanding.

I'm sure that's part of the problem with laptops in the classroom. I'm not sure what the solution is; I suspect the draw of the screen is worse for students who have been using them longer. I think it's naive to assume it doesn't have an impact, but what to do?

I think I'm slowly regaining my ability to book learn by not taking, but also discovered a quick lumosity session beforehand helps with my concentration and checking my phone fills the destruction niche. But I hope I can improve the time between reading and fucking off.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:46 AM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I bet we have a lot of multitaskers on Metafilter! We all have other things to do, but here we are in this thread. And we get by. It can be done.

You can take better notes on laptops, too. My own handwriting is...not so great, even though teachers drilled us mercilessly on our penmanship back in the dark ages. Being left-handed didn't help any. But typing? There I am a Viking! My left-handedness is actually an advantage. When the job market was slow, being a fast typist got me temp jobs. I always said that when I had kids, boys or girls I wanted them to learn two things: how to cook, so they could feed themselves, and how to type, so they could get stuff done. And they did.

Why shouldn't they put those keyboarding skills to use in the classroom? I think my oldest might type faster than I do now, and I can assure you that his handwriting is atrocious. They don't drill it into them like they used to any more, so by the time today's students get to college, most of them barely remember how to write their names in cursive. You professors know that; I imagine most of you don't have your students turn ihand-written papers in to you. Why insist they hand write their own notes?

I know, it is the internet, not just the laptop being brought into the classroom that bothers you. Still, if what you are really worried about is students not paying attention, you could always incorporate that system where you ask questions and the students have to click in into your lectures, or plan more group discussion sessions instead because, yep, lectures are a poor teaching model anyway.

And yes, I politely tap students who are obviously screwing around

If a student is obviously screwing around on a laptop, that student will not get a good grade, right? Those students (or their parents) are paying to take your class, and choosing to use the laptops to screw around as well. If they do poorly in class because they were on YouTube and Twitter instead of taking notes, they are throwing that money away. That seems like a built-in deterrent to me.

But maybe it is not enough of a deterrent. Still, what does the polite tapping accomplish, exactly? Are you hoping to shame the students into paying attention? It's not like they don't know what they are doing. They aren't under some evil spell; you don't have to rescue them.

Is the tapping a way of asserting your authority? I don't know, it just seems like now you are acting like, well, more of a nanny than a teacher. That's not your job. Whenever you catch someone screwing around (by which I mean not using the laptop for class-related stuff), why can't you just kick the offender out of class for the day?

I'm just not convinced a blanket laptop ban is the best way to accomplish what you all say you want to accomplish--getting the students to pay attention in class.
posted by misha at 5:50 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Isn't he arguing that the laptop used by one student distracts, even disturbs, other students? And isn't he saying that social media sites are designed to draw you in, just as advertising is, and it's hard to compete with that. Corporations spend billions on advertising because they want to convince us their product will make us happier. Professors don't have billions to spend on figuring out the absolute best way to maximize student attention, retention, and processing of material presented in classes.

I spend a lot of time with college students, freshmen in particular. Yes, there may be a few students who need to use a device in class because of a disability, but for the most part the students would do fine without one. Taking notes by hand aids learning, I know I've read some research on that. Doodling also helps. Electronic devices are just too tempting with their unlimited opportunties for distraction. and it could be that the mechanics of typing are such that it impedes learning.
posted by mareli at 6:07 AM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Classrooms are a teaching space, but the individual subject of that space matters very little to the "lesson" of the classroom. Classrooms, by their very design, are about learning how to recognize and respond to authority. Oh, but most importantly, classrooms are about how to interact with authority.

Distraction (of the individualized type not the intrusion of other people's concentration type), in turn, is the enemy of authority and must be smote from the presence of authority. But authority just sucks at teaching anything to anyone. Authority shapes behavior. And as was already pointed out, this is an issue of behavior and not one of learning.


Wow. I disagree with all of this. This is either a near-parody of the worst kind of professor or the worst kind of high school experience.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:03 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I teach college. I let it all in. Anyone can record class for any reason (it's not like I'm delivering the Bible Part 2 up there - I do a good job, but I'm not teaching record breaking research or anything; no one's going to make a mint selling my information) and so folks with accommodations aren't sticking out (and I do my quizzes online for the most part, and Blackboard lets me put in time exceptions, so no one is having to go over to take their tests at ODS and stand out that way; I provide transcripts for videos to the whole class ahead of time - basically, I try to structure my classes so that folks with accommodations are going to fit into the natural flow of the class as much as possible), people can use electronic devices to take notes or look at the readings for the day (I wouldn't have gotten through grad school with a laptop ban; I walk around the room during discussions and for the most part, notes and readings are what folks are doing), and frankly, in a class of 90 people, I told them on the first day "look, if you need to pull out your phone to send a quick text to tell your roommate 'crap, can you take out the dog please?', go ahead and do it, as long as you're fast about it, you're not distracting anyone else anymore so than being in a room with 90 people already is a distraction, and you've turned off everything that beeps."

Folks who are distracting other students with their tech (like the people who thought the could watch movies in the second row of a 101 class, what?) I deal with on their own. Similarly, folks who distract other people with talking to their neighbors or packing up early or coming in late and trying to sit up front , I deal with on their own. I figure if faculty can be trusted to pull out their phone quickly in faculty meetings and check for messages from their spouses, then I can trust my students do to the same. (Can all faculty be trusted that way? No, of course not. But we deal with individuals who aren't being constructive as we need to.)

Is it perfect? No, of course not. There's days when everyone is talking to their neighbors and can't focus, but that's a 90 person issue, not a tech issue (my 25 person classes are a lot smoother). In the meantime, my students are engaged, no one's sleeping, they participate in class discussions and group activities (and I use clickers too, so that helps), grades are good and the information received back on qualitative assessments reflects learning.

Maybe I'm just lucky, but knock wood, so far it works.
posted by joycehealy at 7:11 AM on September 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


Do you know what distracts students even more than computers? WOMEN. Yes, nothing distracts strapping college-age men than the fairer sex, which is why I don't allow such creatures in my lectures.

Oh I suppose if someone comes with a note from a doctor or something, I may permit them to sit in the back. But no giggling or flirting, and if they pull out their pocket mirrors, I will have proctors standing by, ready to shine bright lights upon them!

And pens? Pencils? Notebooks? Bah! I'll have none of those pernicious devices in my lectures! Study after study has shown that such technological crutches degrade our natural ability to memorize information. If a student is not capable of building a decent memory palace during lecture, and then repeat back the information the next day in dactylic hexameter, then I suggest they should refrain from attempting university, because obviously writing has corrupted their mental processes.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a log to go sit on, while I lecture on the nature of virtue and a perfect state
posted by happyroach at 8:30 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's immediately putting the students in an essentially infantilized position with respect to the professor.

Browsing of websites during a lecture similarly diminishes the autonomy of non-browsing students, making it really difficult to focus, which is also "infantilizing." Why, when I'm paying however many hundreds of dollars per lecture, should I have to be the passive recipient (difficult not to be with the screen throwing up new images in my peripheral, or even direct, line of vision) of someone scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram for the entirety of the class? Why is my choice removed from me by that student's desperate need to stay constantly connected?
posted by faux ami at 8:37 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Browsing of websites during a lecture similarly diminishes the autonomy of non-browsing students, making it really difficult to focus, which is also "infantilizing."

No. That's not "infantilizing" at all. It's irritating, it's rude, it's inconsiderate etc. But neither you nor the asshole student who is behaving in that way are being treated as less than fully responsible adults in that situation. You, as a responsible adult--for example--have the option of putting your hand up in that classroom and saying "Professor, I am finding it extremely difficult to concentrate because people are, inconsiderately, using their laptops to browse Pinterest etc. during class." The class could then hold a collective vote on whether it thinks such behavior should be condoned (such collective social sanctioning is likely to be far more effective--and far better tolerated--than decrees from on high). Or you can sit and seethe. Or you can go and speak to the offending students privately after class. In any case, what you do is up to you as a responsible adult person. It's only if you look to Big Daddy or Big Mommy at the front of the class to impose a solution from on high that you are all being "infantilized."

I recognize, by the way, that these are matters of degree rather than kind. There has to be some measure of "infantilization" in the instructor/instructee relationship (the professor has "authority" in the classroom which the student doesn't). I don't see profs who insist on the "no laptops" rule as moral monsters (it is literally true that some of my best friends are profs who insist on such rules). But I do think that, on the whole, the less infantilization in the relationship between profs and students the better, and that if it is possible to forego rules of this kind--which are explicitly infantilizing in their nature--without seriously compromising the educational experience of the class, one should.
posted by yoink at 8:55 AM on September 24, 2014


Doodling is different from last night's episode of game of thrones.

Lower body count, certainly.
posted by yoink at 9:13 AM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


There were no laptops in the room with only ten people, myself and the professor included, yet one day I still managed to fall asleep sitting up for the entire hour. Believe it or not I ended up taking a year off to work and think about whether college was for me.

Some people are just going to fuck off in school, especially if they aren't paying for it and when it's hard to get a D much less an F.

That being said, the people who invented computers didn't have laptops in class and they did okay.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 9:57 AM on September 24, 2014


Do you know what distracts students even more than computers? WOMEN. Yes, nothing distracts strapping college-age men than the fairer sex, which is why I don't allow such creatures in my lectures.

I know you are being sarcastic, but this touches on something that bothers me. Education has CRIPPLINGLY bad "boy who cried wolf" baggage when it comes to the issue of "distraction." When I hear someone claim laptops are bad because of distraction what I'm immediately thinking of is the boy in my elementary school who was suspended because getting his head shaved would "distract" me and all the girls constantly and invasively policed for "distracting" minor dress code violations. Obviously, college is a different place but education has really poisoned the well on me caring about what educators think of as distracting.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:04 AM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


(What did distract me was the mind numbingly boring and useless authoritarian teachers though, not skirt length being one inch off.)
posted by Drinky Die at 10:07 AM on September 24, 2014


michaelh: The better solution is to let the professor decide under what rules the classroom functions best, then determine how to make allowances for disabilities.
Given that racist, sexist, homophobic, and otherwise bigoted professors are tenured in every institution in the land, entrusting them to "do what's best" for disabled students is a terrible idea.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:17 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


OK, here's a cite of recent research finding that taking notes on laptop is worse than handwritten:
The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.
Can someone with access to SAGE comment how much time students had to study their notes? I know that for me handwriting is more effective when it comes to short-term retention, but more detailed, typed notes make revision and learning more information a lot easier and speedier.
posted by ersatz at 11:38 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I know you are being sarcastic, but this touches on something that bothers me. Education has CRIPPLINGLY bad "boy who cried wolf" baggage when it comes to the issue of "distraction." When I hear someone claim laptops are bad because of distraction what I'm immediately thinking of is the boy in my elementary school who was suspended because getting his head shaved would "distract" me and all the girls constantly and invasively policed for "distracting" minor dress code violations. Obviously, college is a different place but education has really poisoned the well on me caring about what educators think of as distracting.
You're conflating issues, even though you correctly noted that "distractions" are often a strawman for "things educators don't like." However, in this case we're literally talking about external stimuli that divert students' attention.

Nobody's advocating for removing all stimuli from classrooms. However, I do agree with the premise that the layout of a lecture hall makes laptop screens unusually distracting. There's a well-understood biological basis for the fact that bright lights and moving objects in your peripheral vision get your attention...
posted by schmod at 11:45 AM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


That's fair, it's why I referred to it as "Boy who cried wolf" situation, the tragedy is that there are actually wolves out there.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:59 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Given that racist, sexist, homophobic, and otherwise bigoted professors are tenured in every institution in the land, entrusting them to "do what's best" for disabled students is a terrible idea.

Not to mention the many, many classroom teachers (professors and otherwise) simply phoning it in, showing minimal concern for the success and well-being of their students. This has been the biggest problem in my extensive educational experience: 'teachers' who evidently don't give a fuck.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 1:50 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


No. That's not "infantilizing" at all.

One of the "competencies" related to the learning objectives of a course I was involved with was, "Promotes high standards of personal and organizational integrity, compassion, and respect for all people." Either students don't understand the required competency or don't recognize the failure to meet it, but it is routinely ignored. I do think these community norms and expectations are important, however, and more useful than a norm under which I must singly "shush" offending individuals (who, in my experience, represent 30% or more of large lecture course groups), with the burden and unpleasant consequences of policing shifted to me. I think such a norm encourages the status quo, or even encourages a contagious arms race with others more likely to also use their devices after giving up on learning (in my example, I am assuming that the course is interesting and the professor is providing useful lecture material that some/many students would like to hear).
posted by faux ami at 2:31 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe part of the solution is lessening or eliminating lectures or big classroom lectures. As schmod said, the lecture method isn't even all that effective (schmod, do you have citations for that? - because I would love to glue them to a few colleagues faces)

The core issue is commonly recognized as "Bloom's 2 Sigma Problem," and there's been a ton of follow-on research.
posted by schmod at 9:25 AM on October 3, 2014


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