Yes, Alex, we get it. There are many reasons why laptop computers are a useful and integral part of the classroom. But have you ever found it difficult to concentrate on a lecture because of the rat-a-tat-tat of the person sitting next to you pounding away at their keyboard? No? Well maybe that means you were the one doing the pounding.
But the incessant tick of the keyboard is just one of the several problems with laptops in the classroom. Consider the case of Sally McSocial, the student who starts every class with a blank Word document and a pronouncement that she’s really going to take notes this time, but, living up to her name, proceeds to spend the next eighty minutes on Facebook Chat and MSN. By the end of the class, Sally’s Word document contains the word “liberalism” and no context whatsoever.
Has Sally ruined the class for others? Debatable. Certainly some people would be tempted to eavesdrop on her supposedly private messages, and they might use Sally’s openness as a convenient distraction. More importantly, Sally has just spent over an hour of her time in the classroom, and all she has to show for it is one word, which she knows nothing about. Why even show up in the first place? Why should Sally have made the 20-minute commute to and from campus to do stuff she could have done from her bedroom? Take away Sally’s laptop, and she’s paying more attention to the professor and, as a result, better grades will follow.
Sally is far from the worst example of laptop misuse in university. During lectures, glance at the glowing screens to your left and right and you may be able to eavesdrop on a Skype convo or check our how your fellow classmate is progressing in their current session of Roller Coaster Tycoon. While you yourself might never use a computer so bizarrely during class, these are all real-life examples as witnessed by Laurier Brantford students. If nothing else, we should develop a laptop policy with an eye towards saving these people from their own stupidity.
It wasn’t so long ago that laptops were a non-factor in universities – students had to take all their notes by hand, without the aid of slides posted on WebCT. In some cases, there weren’t any slides at all – professors talked a lot and occasionally wrote a key term on the chalkboard, but students were left to figure out what was important and what was worth writing down. And guess what? Most of them probably made it to graduation.
I’m not suggesting a return to the 1960s and a complete ban on laptops in the classroom. But perhaps a policy which clearly defines computers as a privilege, not a right. Or, teachers being allowed to patrol the aisles of their classrooms and remove any computers being used for non-class purposes. Or even wireless networks being confined to student lounges and study rooms. It all sounds good to me!