Don’t ban my laptop from class!

Photo Credit: Lisa Dimyadi

[dropcap]“[/dropcap][dropcap]I[/dropcap]banned laptops in the classroom after it became common practice to carry them to school,” writes a computer science professor for The New Yorker last June. I find this sentence, much less the rest of the article, perfectly encapsulates a portrait of ignorance; a technologically out-of-touch professor, and the academic stifling that currently barricades too many 21st century classrooms.

Students at this school are most certainly familiar with that sinking feeling, the prickling annoyance that jabs at our insides when a professor adamantly announces during the first class that students will have no choice but to take notes the old-fashioned way. Laptops snap shut, pens click, papers rustle, and under-the-breath groans ensue. What better a way to make a decent first impression on your tech-savvy, new age students? Sorry professor, but you just lost your fiery chili pepper on Rate My Prof.

Scholars will argue that to take notes with pen and paper way allows students to engage with what they learn, as the movement of imperfect pencil strokes forces us to think objectively about the information we record. That, and profs seem frustrated with the idea that students have access to so many distractions during class; Amazon whispers of a full wallet, and Facebook pleads on its knees for attention in the face of a boring economics lecture.

What these professors fail to understand is that while they bask in the academic superiority of pencil to paper, they’re actually the ones who lag behind everyone else; as is particularly the case with scholars who’ve been teaching for over 25 years. It seems a no-brainer to say at this point, but digital usage is simply the modern student’s way of learning — it’s how we communicate and receive most of our information; it’s a way of life, plain and simple.

Perhaps some professors dislike the idea that a computer can undermine their intellectual authority.

Before I get into the real meat of the argument, perhaps I’ll quickly shell out the most obvious components: as a typist of over 80 words per minute, I record lecture notes far faster than when writing by hand. And this isn’t to say that I turn into a ‘transcription zombie’ when I attend class, as I find I’m able to comprehend information quite well while my fingers fly around the keyboard. Now, I can’t speak for everyone in this case, but I’m certain that I’m not alone in stating these facts.

I find that the rapid pace of a personal computer helps me to formulate my thoughts in a way that a pencil cannot when I struggle to scribble and condense information before the lecture slide switches over.

Apart from this, an open technology lecture eliminates any whispered communication between classmates; I find that most students nowadays will send a mere text or chat message if they feel the need to have side conversations.

But buried beneath the most obvious excuses are the ones that aren’t as pronounced. Open technology allows those with learning disabilities to better comprehend information that is being thrown at them. Certain programs and technological tools help these students more easily decode messages and ultimately gather more value from their education in ways that weren’t as possible during the days of old.

Perhaps some professors dislike the idea that a computer can undermine their intellectual authority; that there’s a chance they’ll be booted off their scholarly high-horse once an online encyclopedia proves they might actually have their facts incorrect. If so, I must ask, shouldn’t we embrace these opportunities? Open web access broadens the search for knowledge, and provides professors with a handy reference tool should they mistake anything they teach. It’s definitely not uncommon to find an eager beaver in the front row raise a hand to correct a professor during class.

However, the thing that irks me the most when it comes to banning all personal technology from class is that doing so defies the main mantra a university should stand by — that is, independent and critical thinking. I’ll keep this prompt: we’re adults, so please treat us as such. A recurrent theme that seems to spring up in the pieces I’ve written for The Peak is the notion that it’s a student’s responsibility to better themselves. The same concept undoubtedly applies here.

Evolve your teaching practices so that students can engage with the lecture digitally.

If a personal computer is what will make a student most comfortable to learn, then it’s that student’s right to use this item in an adult environment where making one’s own decisions is encouraged. To all the profs who are frustrated when pupils don’t pay attention in their class: maybe it’s your responsibility to get with the times, and realize that learning environments have changed since days before it “became common practice to carry [laptops] to school.”

It’s easy to turn to students and barrage them with, “if we learned this way before, we can definitely do it now!” But to actually put this into practice may not be so simple. In a time when most students think and perceive reality through personal technology, to lose sight of such for an extended period time may be comparable to a digital withdrawal.

In this case, it’s in a professor’s best interest to embrace technology with us. Rather than confine us to a 1940s style classroom — an environment we simply aren’t as accustomed to — evolve your teaching practices so that students can engage with a lecture digitally, take short and frequent break periods, and allow us to make innovative use of our computers since we’d prefer to use them anyways.

By accepting and accommodating the digital tools that students now use to learn, professors can ease their way into a realm of academia that they themselves might not admit they’re actually afraid of, and would allow students a sigh of relief into a ready mental state more coherent for the lecture hall.


  1. I don’t have a laptop, but I’ve seen this more than once:
    “Please switch off and put away your cell phones during class”
    I often have the lecture slides on my phone, so if a slide is skipped past too fast, I can check if I missed something.