We’ve all seen both kinds.
On one hand there is the student diligently focused on taking notes and then there is the other student hiding behind the shield of their computer looking at Facebook or playing a game.
Whether laptops should be allowed in classes at all is currently being considered by the Academic Policy and Standards Committee of the faculty senate. The senate asked the committee to determine whether or not policy needed to be made on the subject of laptop usage in classroom. They convened on Friday Sept. 24 to discuss “potential language regarding electronics use in the classroom.”
A draft of the policy will be written sometime this week. After that it is a long and hard road for any actual resolution to be decided on, according to Travis Wagner, who brought the proposal before the senate last May. If it’s approved it will be sent to the executive council of the faculty senate for review and placement on an upcoming agenda for the full senate to consider.
According to the bylaws, there must be two separate meetings before a vote can take place, which can occur at the second meeting. The faculty senate may vote to accept, amend, reject or send it back to the committee with instructions. If passed, the policy would only guide what professors should do regarding laptop use.
Currently, Wagner said, “there is no guidance as to what is the most effective, preferred or permissible.” The resolution says the primary problem with laptop use is the ubiquitous of Wi-Fi, and suggests that perhaps professors should be able to temporarily turn off the Wi-Fi in their classrooms.
Options suggested are a full ban on laptop usage, an honor code or a class-based policy against Internet usage — which the resolution admits would be ineffective.
Apart from Wagner, Charlotte Rosenthal, professor of Russian; Steven Rand, registrar; and Carol Nemeroff of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department are all on the committee.
Currently professors seem torn between the benefits and drawback of laptops in class. “On the one hand, I think laptops are a great resource for note-taking,” said Dana McDaniel, professor of linguistics. “Occasionally, it is also useful for a student to look something up on the Internet that relates to the class discussion. But there are several downsides. One is that laptops seem to drive humans to multitask. If you have an open laptop in front of you, it is almost impossible to resist checking e-mail, surfing the Internet, etc. while taking notes.”
Besides multitasking and getting off topic, some worry laptops make students mentally check out of the classroom and are detrimental to the learning experience.
C. George Caffentzis, a philosophy professor, doesn’t allow laptop usage in his classes, which tend to be very discussion based. “Some students are distracted by the noise of typing… while others can be distracted by the images that they are seeing in another student’s screen when the computer is being used to surf the net instead of taking class notes,” he said.
Student Chelsea Foss, a junior French and English major, echoed this concern. “[Laptops] can certainly be helpful, but most of the time people are just messing around and it angers me.”
McDaniel agreed that laptops can be distracting. “The other problem is that, even if a student is just taking notes, the open laptop is distracting for students sitting behind it, and blocks the instructor’s view of the student,” said McDaniel.
When it comes to appropriateness of usage there is also the question of lecture versus seminar. A laptop can be used to take efficient and organized notes in an information-heavy lecture class, but heavy note taking is not as necessary in a seminar class. “A seminar course requires the student to have a continuous active relationship to the discussion in the class, while in a lecture course the expectation of involvement in discussion, though it is there, is less stringent. That is why I discourage the use of laptops in seminar courses and I am less opposed to their use in lecture courses,” said Caffentzis.
Beyond note-taking, many students rely on their laptop to help them access reading materials during class. “I usually use my laptop to look at articles from e-reserve without having to print them out, saving paper and ink,” said Jacob White, a freshman theater major. Electronic reserves has become an integral part of USM in recent years but many students find printing out all readings inconvenient and costly.
“I like to have my laptop in meetings, so I understand that students might feel the same way about class,” said Jeannine Uzzi, chair of the classics department. “I’ve found cell phones more disruptive in class than laptops, and I do ask students to turn off and put away phones during class.”