Here is a short excerpt from a longer article someone posted to the MSU [discuss] list the other day. I found it somewhat interesting because it is actually like the only vaguely on topic message on that list I saw in months.
It’s unusual to walk into a law class, or any classroom in a professional school today, without viewing a sea of open laptop lids blocking students’ faces and hearing the steady hum of fingers striking keyboards.
But a growing — albeit small — number of law professors like Mr. Herzog are pushing back. Students with laptops, they argue, surf the Web instead of engaging in class, and play games, shop online, or e-mail friends, distracting themselves and those who sit near them. The complaints highlight how technologies once eagerly adopted by colleges can later pose problems.
Aside from the Michigan campus, others where law professors have banned laptops include Florida International, Georgetown, and Harvard Universities, and the University of Wisconsin.
Business-school professors, too, complain about laptops’ sabotaging discussions. As a result, some business professors are asking students to close their laptops during conversations.
The backlash appears to be primarily in the law schools, however. Law professors say the Socratic method, the cornerstone of a legal education, in which professors ask students to accept or refute a long series of questions, is under assault by the vast array of amusements available to students on their laptops. The learning method calls for focused interaction between students and professor, as he or she tests their assumptions. Laptops, psychologically and literally, get in the way.
The Chronicle of Higher Education: Information Technology, Volume 54, Issue 40, Page A1
I find that very telling that the Law and Business professors are the ones spearheading this Luddite movement of technology hate. It’s completely unsurprising considering the track record of business school students.
The running joke is that if you have absolutely no idea what to do with your life, no ambition, no drive and no desire to study you sign up for a business program. If, on top of all of the above you can’t do basic arithmetic or operate Excel then you usually go into law. Don’t get offended. I mean, all Math/Science students are considered antisocial nerds by the outside world so I think it is only fair if we retaliate a little bit with stereotypes of our own.
So you can see why I’m not surprised why law professors scoff at laptops in the classroom. They don’t know how to utilize technology in the classroom and their students are probably not using it constructively either. I don’t think I need to mention that using a laptop in most CS classes is invaluable. Especially when you are learning about new programming language or technology it lets you actually try the examples outlined in the lecture in real time.
Some people actually do take notes this way. I tried it couple of times with mixed results in grad school. My biggest problem was that in most classes we did a lot of drawings, diagrams, tables and etc. For me a perfect note taking tool would probably be a tablet with OneNote like software. Unfortunately I never owned one. I could see however how taking electronic notes using a regular laptop in a law related course would be much easier for a fast typist.
I would usually use my laptop to follow along with the PowerPoint presentation. Most professors made their lecture slides available online and this allowed me to flip back and forward through the slides – sometimes out of sync with the lecture – for example to go back few slides to a concept that I did not fully understood as it was explained. I’d also pull up old notes, google unfamiliar terms and try to find interesting arguments and counter-examples to what was being taught in class. So yes, I was browsing the web, but usually constructively.
comic © Doonesbury
As a teacher I have limited use for laptops during the lecture portion of the course, but I sometimes engage my laptop wielding students and make them do some work – for example google some interesting term and read the definition to the class or try out something that I just explained – which can be easy when you are teaching basic computer concepts. The lab portion when they learn how to use MS Office and make HTML websites is a whole other thing.
Naturally given a chance students will browse the web, update their facebook and IM each other. There is no way around it. But I guess this is a matter of personal responsibility. I mean, we are talking about college here. Your students should be responsible adults and they are actually paying large sums of money to be in your class. If they want to waste the time and money by browsing the web that is their problem.
This actually touches on a problem that pains me greatly. I honestly believe that attendance should be optional. I would much rather conduct a class for only the people who actually want to be there, participate and ask questions than force students to sit there and be bored out of their mind, checking their watch every 5 minutes and sneering, and rolling their eyes every time another student asks a question or tries to engage in a discussion. Unfortunately this doesn’t work. I tried this optional attendance thing my first semester as a teacher and I ended up with 6 people showing up one day, and 3 leaving halfway through the lecture. It is silly, irresponsible and kinda stupid. If you don’t want to sit in a given class, why take it at all?
Banishing laptops out of your classroom because some people don’t care to participate in the class, or simply can’t resist the online distractions seems like a step backward. We will have more technology in the classroom in the future – and not less. And pen & paper notes have many huge disadvantages. They can’t be shared and disseminated easily. They can’t be searched, tagged and cataloged. And of course they are easily lost and damaged. If I wanted to look through some of my old class notes from my undergrad classes right now, I would have to dig though boxes papers sitting in a dark corner of my closet or somewhere in the attic. The electronic or scanned notes that I took as a grad student on the other hand are still here sitting on my hard drive. Think about that before banning useful technology out your classroom.
[tags]laptops in the classroom, teaching, school[/tags]