Here’s an interesting story: a University of Memphis law school professor has banned laptops from her classroom, saying that they encourage students to try to transcribe every word, inhibit thinking and analyzing, and interfere with eye contact. The students are very upset, and are circulating a petition.
If the professor is concerned with students trying to transcribe every word, would she consider recording her lectures and letting the students access them? Or would she simply be concerned that they would use that as an opportunity to skip class (rather than an opportunity to review and reinforce the materials)?
Introduction of technology into classroom environments is a very contentious issue. Some teachers embrace it; others despise it. In truth, the devil is in the details. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that all uses of technology in the classroom are good, and we’ve all seen bad uses both by teachers and students.
This is actually an area where my organization, Microsoft Research, has been doing some active work. We created a platform called ConferenceXP to make it easier for researchers to experiment with technology in learning environments, and lots of good work is happening around that. I’m also a big fan of the work that Allison Druin at University of Maryland, and Eliot Soloway at University of Michigan, have done both in experimenting as well as evaluating technology in learning environments. But I think there’s clearly a need for more comprehensive and definitive evaluative research on how specific applications of technology help or hinder learning.
Also, on Monday Brown University and Microsoft Research announced a new Center for Pen-Centric Computing to specifically look at how tablet form factors can enhance the learning environment. I have high hopes that the science that comes out of this effort will shed some real light on the possibilities and the traps inherent in using technology in learning.
This is a very important topic with significant implications for the future. There are far too many knee-jerk reactions today, and not nearly enough thoughtful dialogue – or research.