Monday, April 21, 2008

Annals of modern teaching: On banning laptop use in classrooms

A law school professor writes a paper about his experiment [via The Situationist]. Here's the abstract:

Over the last several years law school classrooms have seen an explosion of student laptop use. Law professors have allowed this by default, generally under the pretense that laptops make note-taking easier. However, many professors complain that students use their laptops to play games, watch movies, or if they have an Internet connection, to do web surfing and e-mailing during class. This paper presents my experience in banning laptops from my classroom in the Fall of 2006, the first time it was done at my institution. The article covers the reasons for and against allowing laptops in the classroom, my reasoning and procedure for banning them, perceived differences in the classroom experience and relevant student comments from my course evaluations, which were overwhelmingly positive to the laptop ban. Also covered are the cognitive psychological reasons in support of banning laptops. Studies show that lower grades were correlated with increased student web browsing during class (Grace-Martin & Gay, 2001; Hembrooke & Gay, 2003), and the amount of time which students used their laptops for tasks other than taking lecture notes (Fried, 2007). MRI studies of the brain indicate that the brain stores information differently when distracted, which occurs when students attempt to multi-task in class (Foerde, Knowlton, & Poldrack, 2006). The science of note-taking is also covered, which indicates verbatim typing may interfere with learning (e.g., Kiewra, 1991). The paper concludes by urging law school professors to review why laptops are allowed in their classrooms and, unless they feel that laptops increase student learning, to ban or heavily restrict their classroom use.


  1. Anonymous said...

    In our class, laptops were being used for two purposes - one set of students were poring over the powerpoint slides in their laptop screens; the other set were busy with Gmail (and presumably GTalk) and facebook.

    Wonder why you need a laptop to pore over slides when the professor is showing the very same slides on the big screen in front of you :o

    The facebook users at least use the laptop for doing something that they couldnt have done inside the class w/o laptops :P

  2. Rishabh Kaul said...

    And if the LAN is working, not to forget the porn.

    But yes, I dont see the point of allowing computers in the classrooms, unless they expect students to research and validate the teachers points while in the classroom. And taking down notes on laptops isnt a good enough argument.

  3. Animesh said...

    In other news, Virginia Tech has mandated that all incoming freshmen have tablet PCs. Being a tablet owner myself, I can see how that might be an amazing addition to the student's arsenal.

    Also, in my opinion, banning laptops because students check mail is kinda like banning notebooks because students can doodle in them [I know I know, the analogy is not perfect, but hear me out].

    The technology is here, and is here to stay, not to mention the fact that it can have numerous benefits [think "students, download the pop quiz NOW, and start solving it, then transfer it to me in the next 15 minutes"].

    Sure, laptop-enabled students will make the job of the instructor harder, but having taught classes where students had desktops, I can vouch for the fact that if the class is interesting enough, and the students consider it more valuable than email/chat/facebook/orkut/porn, they _will_ listen.

    So I request my fellow academicians to stop hiding behind these arguments and prepare to work harder to make their classes more engaging. If your class is boring, the students _will_ find a way to stay engaged, no matter what you ban.

    My 2 cents,