Laptops in class: Distractions or tools?
By Sarah HarmanPosted Oct 3, 2012
For some students, laptops trump pen and paper in the classroom, but students and teachers agree that whatever the choice of tools, it’s important to exercise self-discipline to get the most out of the learning experience.
A 2010 Pew Internet survey found that 88 percent of undergraduate students have laptops and it is probable this number has increased since then. Laptops enable students to type notes quickly and efficiently, but also open the door to class distractions like Facebook, email, games and surfing the web. There’s no question that laptops can serve as a distraction, but for most teachers and students, the pros of laptop use outweigh the cons.
Nicole Kraft, an assistant professor clinical in the school of communication, said she couldn’t see a case where she would not allow laptops in her classes.
“I’m a big believer in technology and I’m a big believer in using technology in the ways that you will use it in the working world,” Kraft said.
However, Kraft has no issue with calling out students who are clearly using their computers for things unrelated to class. She thinks students need to take responsibility for their own behavior and education.
“To a degree, it’s a lot of self-control and recognizing that if you’re going to be sitting in a meeting sometime in the future and you’re going to be playing a game or surfing Twitter and your boss says ‘What do you think about that?’ and you don’t have an answer, that’s going to be a really big problem for you.”
Axel Westerwick, an assistant professor clinical in the school of communication, said research on multitasking shows it’s harder to focus on several things at once.
While laptops create many more things to focus on, Westerwick said, “Somehow I don’t see that we can turn the time back to the days when nobody had a laptop in class.”
Westerwick said he likes that students have the opportunity to engage more in class discussions by accessing relevant resources online that they can share during class. He said, though, students should consider their abilities to handle distractions when deciding to bring a laptop to class.
“You need to self-reflect – what is good for me?” he said.
Robbie Young, a fourth-year in international studies, said he purposely leaves his computer at home most days. But when he doesn’t, he falls victim to many distractions.
“I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook,” Young said. “I’m on Foursquare checking into buildings just because I need something to always be doing. I think previous generations fulfilled that need in other ways, maybe through like participating in class and engaging in discussions that we might go to our computers because it’s easier and more available.”
Hannah Baer, a third-year in dental hygiene, agreed that self-discipline is important for suppressing distractions in class.
“I know that sometimes in the class period I’m going to want to randomly get on the Internet, almost like an impulse,” Baer said. “You just hit that Google Chrome, and it’s like the gateway drug.”
So Baer turns off the Wi-Fi on her laptop, she said, so she can at least have the opportunity to rethink getting on the Internet.
“I know what I’m doing, and if I want to stay on track, I will,” Baer said. “If it’s a day where I’m out of it, it’s just going to happen.”
At the end of the day, it’s up to students to decide what they will get out of class.