Study on laptop usage should fuel meaningful discussion

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(Graphic by Steph Truong)

Laptop use in class has been a contentious issue for some time for both educators and students; and debate mostly surrounds whether the negative aspects of laptop use outweigh the benefits. Students use laptops to access course content and take lecture notes. Some are even designated note takers who provide notes to students with disabilities that prevent them from taking quality notes in class.

However, students also use laptops as a distraction tool and instead of using the device to engage with  the course content, they are watching videos, playing games or using social media.

According to a study published in the journal Computers & Education, students using laptops in class learned less than those focused exclusively on learning. In addition, students without laptops who were seated close to students with them, scored even lower than those trying to multitask.

While it is easy to use this study as justification for removing laptops from the classroom entirely, it really isn’t that straightforward. Many students will claim that using laptops is a choice that students have to make. Some who use laptops to take notes haven’t used pen and paper in some time and will be at a disadvantage if technology is pushed out of the classroom.  So, this study should not result in a technology ban, but rather it should fuel a discussion about the responsibilities of the educator and the student.

Many students use laptops and other technology to distract themselves from lectures that lack engagement and leave the student uninterested.  There has to be some onus on professors to make learning an experience that students want to be a part of. Lectures also need to be worth the student’s time and be critical to their success in the course.  If students can get by without paying attention in class, then watching a movie is probably going to take priority. Educators need to embrace technology, acknowledge the importance of it to many students and figure out ways to make students care about what is going in the classroom.

On the flipside, educators can only do so much to engage students. If a professor is doing everything in their power to be creative, engaging and relevant in teaching a course, then the onus has to fall on the student. If students want to disrespect the hard work of professors, and in doing so ruin their own chances of a good mark, then so be it. If students distracted by others using laptops are the concern, give students with laptops a section of their own or make sure students without laptops are sitting in front of those with them.

There are ways around this problem that require more thought than just removing computers from class. If students and educators are willing to put the required thought into this and not take the laziest, most convenient approach, then the entire post-secondary system will be better off.

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