Laptops in the Classroom?

A few weeks ago I was asked by a colleague how I typically handle the issue of laptops in the classroom. On the one hand, they can be a useful learning tool, and many students like to use them. It’s practically become a perceived necessity for student note-taking. On the other hand, laptops can be incredibly distracting in these days of internet addiction and omnipresent social media. I am not immune to the internet’s pull either, and find it difficult to imagine what it’s like to be a student with that constant distraction.

(I’m reminded of a time when I asked students how they would like to handle laptops and they asked me what happened in my classrooms when I was an undergrad. As I was a relatively young faculty member, they had assumed my classmates all had laptops too. To their shock and horror, I explained it wasn’t an issue because nobody had them back when I started undergrad… last century in 1999!)

Here’s my response to my colleague:

I have a laptop-free zone, after sharing this study by Sana, Weston, Cepeda: I am sure to emphasize the effects of the flickering screen on the people around them, and even ask people to raise their hands if they can see a particular student’s screen. It surprises some folks (especially those who tend to sit near the front, whose screens are in wide view). I explain my role is not to take away their freedoms, but to protect the classroom as a place of learning. If they’re hindering other people’s learning, that becomes my business.
I also discuss “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard” but encourage them to make that choice for themselves.

What do you think? How do you think laptops should be handled? What are the best solutions you’ve encountered?

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