Speaking of banning laptops….

Since the whole role of laptops and cell phones in class has been a part of the discussion lately, I thought I’d post this.  From CHE (though this was published last week) comes “Students Are Welcome to Shop Online During My Lectures” by David von Schlichten. He begins the article by explaining that he started to draft this piece while he was in a meeting; a bit later, there’s this:

Frankly, students’ being on their computers or texting does not faze me. This may be because, before I was a professor, I was a parish pastor for 17 years. Sunday after Sunday, I preached while people nodded off or babies screamed (and screamed, and screamed). Who knows how many parishioners were actually paying attention and how many were texting, making grocery lists, or passing notes? I could not monitor all that. I did my best to prepare engaging, relevant sermons. If people chose not to pay attention, I could not help that.

I have the same attitude in the classroom. I am an excellent lecturer. If students opt not to pay attention during my lectures, I am disappointed but not angry. I do my part; it is up to them to do theirs. From what I have heard from my colleagues, the policing of students is more aggravating than worthwhile, and with 173 students in five classes, I simply do not have the time and energy to be disciplining students for not giving me their undivided attention. Besides, just as I was able to start this essay during a meeting and am able to work at home while the TV is on (although it is hard to multitask during The Good Wife), at least some students can probably pay attention to me while doing something else (one student used to knit during class.).


10 thoughts on “Speaking of banning laptops….

  1. Having teaching experience, I can understand that it’s frustrating to look out at a classroom and see students not paying attention, playing on their phone, or screwing around on their laptop. However, as long as it’s not distracting to other students, what harm does it cause? None. If a student came to class and put their head in the arms and fell asleep, I would encourage them to leave, not because I cared they were sleeping, but because they would be better off sleeping in a bed with a pillow. Students are paying for the course, whether they show up every day, only show up for tests, or sit through the lecture and have the information go in one ear and out the other. Where it crosses a line, in my opinion, is when the student’s action (or lack thereof) becomes a distraction for the students that are paying for the course and want to legitimately learn.


  2. When my college age son was much younger I would get irritated when he would not pay attention in church. I learned MY lesson one day when I asked what the priest was talking about during the homily. Needless to say I was surprised at how much he had heard and absorbed. So, there may be some students who have the capacity to multi-task and look like they are not paying attention when they actually are.


    • 60 Minutes did a study of Harvard students years ago … none of them could multi-task as 1/2 as well as they thought they could. Your son is likely the exception


  3. Well, there is the other perspective that open laptops are distracting to the students sitting behind the people using them, especially when they are playing games, watching videos or doing something more interesting than taking notes…


  4. I had a professor at EMU (I forget who) who said that when he or she was up for tenure, an EMU admin sat in the back of the class to observe. Later, when the professor received notes on the quality of the lecture, the admin let the professor know that one of the students was watching porn. Of herself. On her laptop. In class.

    The no-laptops rule seemed super reasonable after that.


  5. Sitting behind a student playing a video game on his laptop can be and has been very distracting for me, even when I find the class very interesting.


  6. This piece by the ex-pastor, current professor, about why laptops are okay with him, in his class, is built on one widespread but very destructive assumption: That college classes are individual experiences, purchased by individual consumers (students), who can reasonably decide how to engage, or disengage, from the class, in any way that isn’t obviously disruptive to others.

    This viewpoint has the merit of allowing instructors to be disengaged from how much learning is taking place in our classes, and rests on the belief that students sink or swim on their own.

    What this viewpoint neglects is the vast scholarly literature on how students learn, what class activities can produce higher levels of engagement (or, lower levels of engagement), and the instructor’s role in creating a vibrant, exciting learning environment. If it’s dynamic, it entails active engagement by members of the class.

    Nodding off, or looking at FB or porn on laptops, or sending private texts, or reading the newspaper, are all signs of student disengagement with the class. Even if the ex-pastor contributor to the CHE thinks that is an okay choice for individual students, it is a reflexion on how lacking in ambition he is for his own classes.

    I believe students aiming to become K-12 teachers are taught that good classroom management requires that the teacher hold the interst of the class and provide activities that engage the students’ creative and imaginative interest. College instructors should expect the same standards of ourselves.

    And, yes, it’s difficult. College teaching is difficult.


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