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Should Laptops and Phones Be Banned in Lecture Halls?

Posted by on September 12, 2015 in Sci-Tech, Technology with 7 Comments

Lloyd Alter | Mother Nature Network


Some professors are doing it, but are they addressing the real problem?

It's that time of year when students go back to school and the question comes up: Should students be allowed to use laptop computers in class? One year ago, Clay Shirky, teaching media studies (of all things) at NYU, told his students to close their laptops. He concluded that multi-tasking students are not learning as well. He wrote in Medium:

We’ve known for some time that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work, and is especially punishing of the kind of cognitive work we ask of college students.

He also found that once he told his students to close their laptops:

(“Lids down,” in the parlance of my department), it’s as if someone has let fresh air into the room. The conversation brightens, and more recently, there is a sense of relief from many of the students. Multi-tasking is cognitively exhausting; when we do it by choice, being asked to stop can come as a welcome change.

Related Article: Education Departments Are Now Spying on Students Through Social Media

According to a documentary on CBC's The Current, more and more professors are banning laptops. It quotes research that claims laptops “may be impeding learning even when they're being used purely for classroom tasks.”

I have faced this problem every year at Ryerson University School of Interior Design, where I teach sustainable design. It depresses me, seeing the wall of laptop screens, but I've always concluded that the problem is me, not the students.

In fact, there are a number of issues at play here.

1. It's about how you teach.

I always felt that if my lectures were better, more interesting, more entertaining then my students would pay more attention to me instead of their computers. So I experiment a lot, practice, and try to make them fun. I'm told that I am good at it, but it's hard to compete with Facebook. I've found that if I work at it, then it pays off; I now am on a bit of a lecture circuit and was even asked to do a public ProfTalks lecture last spring that was a big success. Learning how to keep my students awake and interested actually taught me how to speak in public.

Related Article: Choose Wisely: Nearly 60% of Students Are Chasing Dying Careers

2. The system is broken, but we don't know how to fix it.

As I noted in an earlier post about teaching methods, lectures have been done this way since universities started in 1088, some guy standing at the front of the class and the students writing everything down. Really, it's hard to believe that in this day and age with so many means of communication, that students have to get on the bus and drag themselves down to sit in a lecture hall. It's not like I have all that much interaction with them; it's a lecture. However nobody really has figured out an alternative that works.


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7 Reader Comments

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  1.' Juan Van Zyl says:

    yes, it’s a total distraction and won’t benefit the learner/student. Ban capish

  2.' Stacy Olson says:

    no, but if they are not allowed, the lecturer should have A/V recording available for study. get with the times or go home.

  3.' Terrie LaSpesa says:

    I always took notes. It’s best for learning.

  4.' Zen Hec Ryan says:

    It’s a good idea but no! People will pay attention if they want to learn, having hardware at your finger tips as a distraction is a good way of teaching people about the real world and focus on business at hand.

  5.' Craig William Fels says:

    Stupid. I study IT and wont be told not to use one lol Aside from that ppll don’t pay attention but can listen to lectures again llater and if there are ules that say no FB or gaming then problem solved. Laptops are good for research and looking stuff up online and also typing notes. The ban of laptops is ridiculous and stupid. Technology is the future. Stop being stubbon about moving forward by doing stupid ashit like ban laptops

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