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.”


  1. As someone that takes all my notes on my laptop, I find the movement to ban laptops in class quite frustrating. In the past, I’ve always been very disorganized and had a tendency to lose notes, handouts, and even assignments. In an attempt to mitigate that, this semester I’ve been storing everything electronically on my laptop, including notes I take in class. This allows me to easily store them so that I don’t lose them, I can perform text searches on them if I need to find something quick, and, because my handwriting isn’t the best, I like that I can actually *read* them when I need to.

    There’s also another important aspect to taking notes electronically – the ability to share them. There’s a student with a disability in one of my classes, and I was approached and asked if I could provide them with a copy of my notes in that class. Taking notes electronically means that after each lecture I can take a minute and quickly email the student the notes I just took. If I took notes by hand, I would have to find a photocopier and find some way of getting the copies to him, and it’s something that I probably would not have agreed to do.

    Also, quite frankly, it seems to me that if there are a lot of students browsing the internet in a class, then that’s a symptom of a deeper problem: the lectures do not hold the interest of those that attend them. I recognize that this can be extraordinarily difficult to do, especially in classes students are required to take and have no interest in. My fear is that attendance rates could drop in these classes if laptops are banned, as it can be excruciating to attend them without some sort of release valve.

    So, in summary, I think that banning laptops in class would be a shortsighted move that both fails to address the root cause of the problem and could lead to unintended negative consequences.

  2. It’s a complicated issue. I can see how the misuse of laptops in the classroom can be extremely frustrating. However, I don’t think that good and diligent students should have to have their educational experience altered due to the misuse of laptops by a few inattentive students. The idea of disabling WIFI isn’t a bad idea.

    Students in the class room should be more responsible for their educational experience. If the misuse of a laptop is bothering them they should speak up or inform the professor who can handle such issues on a case by case basis.
    I think the majority of students who use a laptop have issues with their handwriting. Either it’s too sloppy or they (like me) write very slowly and are apt to miss vital information in class. A laptop facilitates students who have issues with handwriting to keep organized and legible notes and keep up with a fast talking prof.

    For some students, having a laptop facilitates more learning. If your education is being affected by the misuse of laptop I think it’s your responsibility to speak up.

  3. Although I can type way faster and more accurately I take all notes in class using pen and paper to increase my writing ability: I see minimal benefit from using a laptop and those who argue the point are most certainly the ones that need weaning from their electronic-pacifiers. What is going to happen when these individuals have to write something for a potential boss at an interview and they are not able to function without spell check? What happens when someone calls attention to a supervisor’s terrible hand writing while attempting to lead a team in an organization? What happens when a person cannot teach their own children good penmanship? I have been in all of these situations in the past. I lost opportunity for employment, chances for promotion, and more important my self-respect. The argument regarding taking notes with a pen and paper is a waste, looking stuff on the net is too valuable to loose, or checking e-reserve reading assignments (that should have been done in advance!!) is simply a ruse to enable those who are truly dependent on machine and not their innate talents as students! I would encourage anyone to draft a two page hand written letter and have their peers evaluate it based on writing clarity, punctuation and grammar, structure, and syntax before arguing that they do not need to practice their hand writing! I am 48 years old, I have top grades in all my classes, and I am not able to pass this simple writing test without the use of a computer; don’t end up like me in a few year after school!

  4. PS: My hand writing has tripled in quality over the past three years of practice while taking notes in class and I am continually working on grammar and punctuation when time allows!

    When I cannot read what I have written or feel I have missed something important I contact my professor or a peer and ask questions!


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