While the debate over the value of technology in classrooms from kindergarten to college is well-rehearsed, there’s been a renewed vigor to the conversation in recent months. With articles in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other prominent publications taking a close look at how technology shapes our ability to engage with peers, retain knowledge, and be productive we thought it was time to take a look at what some college professors had to say about their experiences with laptops in the lecture hall.
Future Ed, a think-tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, checked in with three members of their advisory board to find out about their experiences with laptops and other tech tools. Reading through the three professors’ responses it’s readily apparent that they are not fans of tech – including cell phone usage – in the college classroom.
Martin West, Harvard School of Education
By his own admission West “welcomed this development, grateful that my 80-plus students would have ready access to course readings and an efficient way to capture our conversations. But soon students began to complain about being distracted by the steady flow of news alerts and social media activity on their peers’ screens.” His solution? At first it was to require students to disable the use of Wi-Fi during lectures, but that soon evolved into an outright ban on laptops, which sounds like it will soon evolve into a ban on phone usage as well.
Nora Gordon, Georgetown University
Gordon, too, has gone for an outright ban on laptop in her lectures, but also banned phone usage at the same time. Citing a lack of need for tech in her microeconomics classes, Gordon found that not only were students less distracted, but she was able to focus more on her students and her lecture delivery as she wasn’t distracted by students texting or devices pinging. Even in courses where texts were provided electronically, Gordon has seen no reason to re-admit laptops to her classroom. As she noted in her interview “students do not need a transcript of the class—they need to pay attention.”
Morgan Polikoff, University of Southern California
USC’s Polikoff was the outlier on the subject. From a no-tech in class policy early in his career, Polikoff has relaxed his stance and embraced an “anything goes policy.” His motivations for the change are complex. While he was initially concerned about the performance of weaker students, who tended to be more easily distracted by their devices, he shared that he is now “less concerned about motivation problems in class.” However, his primary concern with an outright ban was grounded in concern for students with disabilities. The “blanket laptop ban with an exception for students with disabilities forces these students to “out” themselves in class, which may make them uncomfortable and affect their ability to learn.”
To this end, Polikoff has adopted a unique approach: To discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using devices in the classroom and letting the students make their own decisions.
This debate will unlikely end anytime soon, but with college and university lecturers coming down in favor of a tech-free teaching environment, we have to ask if incoming students are prepared for paper and pen notetaking? Are they adequately prepared by their elementary and high school careers with both strong handwriting skills and good notetaking?
To read the full interview with the three professors, click here. And click here to read how some law school students feel about their handwriting.