Point • Counter-point: Laptops in lecture

Point

As someone who has enough problems concentrating, Facebook is the worst thing ever to be able to cruise during class. This is one of the many reasons why I no longer bring my laptop to lecture — despite the professors who ruin my life by being unnecessarily verbose and having to scramble to write down everything that comes out of their mouths. Yes, I find it difficult to keep up with some lectures without a laptop. But that’s a minor inconvenience compared to not being able to pay attention.

Simply put, it’s really not just about taking down information — it’s about engaging yourself in the learning experience. Learning is an engaged metaphorical and often literal conversation with professors and other students.
Having a laptop in front of you creates a barrier behind which you can hide and creep people on Facebook. You’re not nearly as attentive as you would be with a piece of paper in front of you. In order to preserve the learning experience for all students, we need to have a frank discussion on whether or not to ban laptops in the classroom.

So why ban laptops in lecture? Clearly not having one of my own in the classroom has helped me a lot, but it is the impact of other laptops in my line of sight that is the true nightmare. As I said before, I have a hard time concentrating and when I can see someone on Facebook or flipping back between MSN messenger and Microsoft Word between lecture slides my eyes glaze over and I’m lost. It’s bad enough to hear the soft clickety-clack of nails on a Blackberry, but even worse when you’re trying to focus and you have some student between you and the prof all gung-ho flipping through photos on Facebook.

Some would argue that banning laptops would be a step backwards in terms of allowing our education to catch up with technological realities. To that I would say this: when are we actually paying attention to what we’re doing? We’re constantly texting, typing, talking, but rarely listening and thinking critically, about a whole plethora of things at once. We need that entire amount of concentration to comprehend properly what is going on in a lecture. We can’t retain or actually educate ourselves when we’re typing to our friend two rows back about how awkward the professor’s shirt looks today. And it’s easy to impede other people’s learning without trying.

The bankable model of education from Paulo Freire tells us that we simply absorb and regurgitate information in the usual lecture setting. It is that critical engagement that we experience in seminar and experiential classes that actually allows us to grasp concepts. A laptop only stimulates the bankable model. We lose the ability to engage in active discussion with the class. Ultimately this compromises the quality of the education we receive, which should be a great concern for all students.

Laptops simply don’t make classrooms that much more accessible, they don’t help you all that much in a lecture environment and they certainly do not belong in a seminar. I fully advocate for Laurier to ban laptops and technological devices from senior level classes to start, with exceptions for those registered with accessible learning.

Students should embrace this change as a necessary step to enhance their quality of education, something that has been in decline at Laurier over the past few years.

– Marcie Foster

Counter-point

Laptops have become a staple of the modern university experience. Walk into any lecture hall on campus and you are greeted with a sea of laptops spread out from one side of the room to the other. That’s unless, of course, your professor has decided to ban laptops in his/her class.

While I admit that there are students who bring their laptops to class to amuse themselves through Tetris, Bubble Spinner or Facebook, laptops have a legitimate use. I wrote my notes for the first two weeks of first year before I realized that I could write down much more of what the professor said and have it all in neat, typed up documents when I went to study it.

There are also students who have differing learning styles and abilities. Laurier is committed to providing accessible learning to all students, especially evidenced by the Accessible Learning Centre. However, accessible learning must mean inclusive learning.

If laptops are banned in any class, a professor is obligated to make exceptions for those with individualized needs. However, those individuals would be singled out amongst the students who are forced to revert to their notebooks.

It would be plainly obvious who was in need of these learning accommodations. Perhaps, then, such individuals would stop bringing their laptops to class as well, even at the expense of their own learning. This is not inclusive and is unacceptable.

Students have a right to make their own choices about their education — for better or for worse. If you want to come to university and create the facade that you give a crap about class by showing up to lecture but not paying the slightest bit of attention, that’s your problem and you’ll deal with the consequences.

But, if you are a committed and dedicated student willing to learn and get the most out of your academic experience and a laptop is part of the way you’re going to achieve that, a professor should not have the right to deny you that.

I understand the objection that someone using their laptop for non-class related activities can be distracting. I also understand that professors become fed up with students who aren’t paying attention in their class. I don’t deny that these are issues that need to be dealt with. Banning laptops, though, is too universal a solution and hurts those who are actually using their laptop to learn.

University is about learning about yourself and how learning works for you. A professor’s role, in my view, is to facilitate that process of development by providing an environment where you can discover that.

A happy medium is possible. I have had professors who have stated their acceptance of laptops as a learning tool in their classes. Those same professors have reserved the right to take laptops away from students if they are being used illegitimately.

Compromises like this are fair and they respect the rights of those who want to learn. It is this type of individualized learning that should be commended, and that we should strive for as an educational institution.

We cannot deny new technology (and its place in education) as it becomes available. Education needs to adapt to these changes as they come along.

Failing to do so is to deny students the opportunity to use all the tools open to them and that is unsustainable.

– Joseph Mcninch-Pazzano

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