Banning laptops?

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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.



The Discussion

  • User profile image

    I wouldn't attend her class. My laptop is a part of my life--and wheelchair.

  • User profile image

    Teachers that don't embrace technology and find ways to integrate it into their classroom like this professor is also teaching their students on how to be out of touch for their future career. It's probably safe to assume that this teacher has a phobia of email too which hinders the students ability to learn and ask questions.

    Thanks for the links! There's not enough coverage, in fact, very little to no coverege on technology and education. I enjoy reading about how technology is being used in the classroom and out.

  • User profile image
    Matt S.

    I have two friends currently attending law school and very attached to their laptops while in class.  I think they would be completely lost without a laptop in hand.

    Laptops in the classroom is not a bad idea - true in some aspects it could easily distract students from paying attention.  But looking at it closely, it could really help a student progress in the class better.  For examply, I believe when I was attending school and could use a laptop I probably would have gotten better grades.  I can type much faster then write, so keeping up with class notes would be easier.  When I was in school I found myself missing majority of a lecture due to keeping up with hand written notes.

    Many software companies are making it easier for teachers to control individuals laptops and making sure everybody is on the same track.  Apple has something like this available with OS X.

  • User profile image
    Pat Phillips

    As a teacher for 25 years I saw many examples of banned technology. Usually it was a situation of the person fearing the technology because they didn't know much about the technology.
    The strategy I used was to clearly state the goals of lessons, student interactions, etc and then help teachers identify what and how some item of technology could address the goals. Technology for technology sake never works.
    It seems that this professor's goal is to have more interaction with students during the lectures. Perhaps posting an outline of the materials ahead of class that students would download could solve part of the problem. Students with the outline available on their laptops could spend time adding details instead of trying to get every word. The professor could pose questions within the outline for class discussion or even connect it to a blog where students could extend the discussion beyond class. Grading could even be tied to this extended discussion.

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