Monday, September 6, 2010

Laptops in the Classroom

I know that we've discussed electronics in the classroom some before, but I got the following email from a student and wanted to see if my fellow CMers could give me some insight.

In my syllabus, one policy reads : "Laptops are not allowed in the classroom"

This morning, I received this email from a student:

Dear Prof Chloe:

The syllabus says no laptops. But I take notes with my laptop so I just wanted to check and make sure that was okay.

Thanks! :)
Curious Callie

(Yeah right, like most of my students actually write a proper email, addressing me and ending with their names)

Seriously, is that policy not clear? How did this student read "No laptops in the classroom" and think "Oh, but that doesn't mean I can't use mine to take notes..." What am I missing here?


  1. No, she's just looking for an exception to the rule. She's exceptional, so she deserves an exception.

  2. Refer her to the syllabus. If she "needs" the laptop, ask for a letter from the student disabilities office. And have a handout on notetakng to give her as she leaves.

  3. allow them, but they have to show me the notes after class....

  4. Not allowed = not allowed is equivalent to "no = no" (something a lot of the younger students never learned at home).

    [I don't ban laptops, but warn my (grad!) students that I don't want to see Facebook, Twitter, ESPN3, etc on them. Once I say that, the % using them goes down drastically.]

  5. No. End of discussion. She may take notes; however, if she uses one, everyone gets to use one. Ain't everybody going to stay off fb.

  6. My experience is that students who use laptops during class are usually the ones that I am telling at the end of the withdrawal period to withdraw because they aren't going to pass.

  7. If the disability office says she needs it, then my answer is "Of, course! Please do!"

    If she's just asking whether or not the rules actually apply to her, then the answer is "Over my dead body!" Once they're exempt from one rule they think they're exempt from them all ('cause you think they're "special").

    But sometimes I like to make it a punishment. Every day she "takes notes" on her laptop she must email them to you so that you can post them on Blackboard. But you make sure the class knows that she's the note taker. That way it's her fault when her absent classmates use her notes. The "but \emph{you} didn't put that in \emph{your} online notes" excuse falls apart. My spouse had a student who "needed" to use her laptop for note taking (in math!) but she allowed them to be posted online and it turned out well for everyone. Though I suspect that was a once in a lifetime experience.

  8. I had a student once say "...but I don't write anything anymore! I don't know how to handwrite!" To which I responded 'I can't think of a science career yet that doesn't require you to write notes at some point, whether it is writing notes out in the bush or sitting at a lab bench while you're doing your research. So, if you've lost the ability to write, this is an excellent opportunity to regain this important skill!' Bam!

  9. Respond with a little bullshit:

    "Studies have proven consistently that students who take notes on a laptop perform more poorly on exams and essays. People are capable of typing what they hear without actually listening to it, which is just fascinating. Then when they review those notes, they have no memory of what was said. What is interesting is that these results also tend to punish students sitting behind those who use laptops for note-taking. I want the very best out of you, so I force my students to get used to taking notes in a proper notebook. Since I started implementing this policy, my grades have gone up on average."

    It makes you sound so caring for her potential grade. And maybe she'll latch on to this "scientific" improvement to her studies. Or maybe she'll hate you.

    On behalf of all of us though: please don't give in.

  10. I guess I have a dissenting opinion. My syllabus explicitly allows (and encourages) laptops in class as long as the students don't distract others. If they distract themselves that's their problem.

    I try to be interesting enough to keep all but the totally disinterested from spending the whole class on facebook. So far it's working well, but I mainly teach graduate students and we use a lot of online tools in class.

  11. After reading AM's comment I may add a note next semester that if you take notes on a laptop, you have to get at least a B on your exams, or no laptop.

  12. I don't think it's my job to be entertaining. I think it's my job to teach them what I think they need to know. Since I'm interested in the subject, I tend to expect that they will be too. So far as I can tell that works out reasonably well. But I certainly don't think it's my job to be so interesting that they won't check out Facebook. Their internet addictions are not my problem.

    I do have a rule - laptop users must sit in the back row, so as not to distract anyone else - and a piece of advice; turn off your wireless access when you come into class. That will give them a moment's hesitation when they find themselves automatically checking Facebook/email/IM/youtube/whatever, when they'll realise that they're supposed to be paying attention to a lecture, and perhaps they'll start paying attention again.

    But if they don't, it is not my fault for being dull. It is their fault, for being easily distracted airheads who don't take good advice.

  13. What you are missing, Chloe is snowflake logic. It goes like this: rules don't apply to me if I want something.

    Your student is presenting a classic flake behaviour, which is to demonstrate that she knows there IS a rule, but that she doesn't want to abide by the rule, so she is providing a "reason" the rule should not apply to her. The "reason" here is: "but I want to".

    I get this all the time. One of the classics is the flake who eats in the classroom, while sitting under the "NO FOOD IN THIS ROOM" sign, and explains his or her actions by saying "but I was hungry!"

  14. Having MS I was often forced to use my laptop for note taking as my hands won't work properly write legibly during hot weather. (Well I CAN write, but it is not legible for follow up reading!)
    Much as Academic Monkey jokingly said, I often found that notes I took on my laptop were less comprehensive, and stuff that I don't even remember taking! Just say No- unless as others have said- there is a valid reason for saying yes.


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