Laptops and the Classroom June 1, 2006Posted by gordonwatts in university.
While not writing my final exam, and not re-grading old tests, and not doing a number of other things I should do today, I came across an article on laptops and the university classroom on Ars-Technica.
…stopping the Internet from getting into the classroom is a waste of time. Students are not going to tolerate laptop bans in the classroom, especially in undergraduate. Professors are going to have to deal with the frustration of seeing their students giggling about "Snakes on a Plane!" during their lectures on Stoic passions.
I’ve got a couple of students that use portables in my classroom. One is a tablet-pc, and is used to take notes. The other one or two are regular portables – I have no idea what the students are doing on them. But these students have always participated in class or answered questions, so I’ve never really given it any thought. If the portable was a distraction – a bunch of students were leaning over to look at what someone had on their screen – I would feel differently. I have definitely looked at the NYTimes during a conference talk in the past. Indeed, sometimes when talks are given to a room of high energy physicists you can look out at the meeting and I’d say about 80% of your audience has their laptops open and is processing email: the clicking of keys is not subtle!
All-in-all, wireless access in the classroom should be a benefit. An engaged student might search for something that went by quickly in class. Or perhaps finding something to contradict what is being said in the classroom. All good, in my mind. I also agree with Ken, the author of this Ars post, that it is a losing battle trying to block the internet. Soon there will be a large number of ways to access the internet (WiFi, WiMax, EVDO, etc.) – some of which won’t be under direct control of the university.
So, us professors had best get used to it. Anything else we should be doing? Ken has it mostly correct:
Really, professors shouldn't be doing anything new. A well-structured class should have a lecture component that delivers material and analysis necessary for the student's performance in the course.
Exactly. Ken’s next statement is interesting too:
The bigger question is, if Joe Baccalaureate got through Econ 101 with an "A" while spending his time manicuring his rotisserie-style fantasy baseball team in lecture, what was the lecture for to begin with?
I don’t know how it works so much in the humanities, of course, but in the sciences you mostly learn by actively doing something. The lecture is the most passive section of the course. So, if the professor isn’t careful, the students can go through it without it being useful. Studying for the test, doing HW, working on labs, etc. – that is where the students will end up learning. Modern teaching and lecture techniques are trying to change this (i.e. asking the class clicker questions, getting them to talk and otherwise think during class). But we still have a way to go before we really make lectures as useful a 50 minutes as they could be.
BTW, the comments above are for large classes. The dynamic changes for smaller classes. It will be much harder to get away with bumming off in one of those – the professor can so quickly walk around the table to see what you are looking at that… well, you’ll have to be prepared for it. 😉
UPDATE: There are some great comments on this post by current and former students. If this topic interests you at all, I high recommend reading the comments!