“Does the Tap-Tap of Laptops Drive Professors Insane?”

Posted: August 13, 2007 in Acceptable Use, Education, Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, School 2.0, Technology, Technology Integration

This is an interesting article:

An excerpt: “Every professor has tales about the downside of laptops in their classrooms. They say that kids turn off their thinking skills and turn it into a touch typing class. Or that the annoying tap-tap of the keyboard drives them to distraction as they try to frame their next thought. They complain about kids who doze behind their open laptop screens (some report looking out on a sea of open laptop cases with logos) and about kids who IM, shop and e-bay to wile away the class hours.

Not all professors think laptops should be ousted from the classroom though; many talk about laptops the same ways they talk about the student’s in their class: engage them and they’ll be fine.”

The debate is on! What do you think?

  1. TeacherJay says:

    I have to agree that all technology, including laptops in classrooms, should be seen as a tool for learning and not merely as a replacement for a paper and pen. Many, if not most, college classrooms today have technology to harness the power of those laptops – often professors use things like PowerPoint Presentations – those could be shared over the net so students could see them and post comments in real-time in class and on the class website. There are also softwares that would allow real-time discussion and note taking to be shared.

    The professor from Columbia in the article mentions that learning should be a conversation and I wholeheartedly agree. But, it sounds like many of these professors are afraid of changing their methods – if they are looking out at “a sea of open laptop cases” it sounds more like they are simply trying to lecture and that is something that can be replaced online… engage the students and their laptops.

  2. nhokanson says:

    Great comments TeacherJay (I like your blog)! Your suggestions of posting comments in real time and utilizing collaboration software are remedies for what often ends up being lecture presentations. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say: “it sounds like many of these professors are afraid of changing their methods.” Don’t be afraid: engage, engage, engage!

  3. Siobhan Curious says:

    I allow a student to use a laptop in my classroom only if he/she has a documented medical reason for needing one (a learning disability, a physical problem with the hands, etc.) Before establishing this rule, I’d been finding that students with laptops were definitely distracted (who could resist emailing their friends or playing a game if the opportunity was right in front of them? I couldn’t…) but, more importantly, the students around them were distracted by whatever was going on on their screen, and the students with the laptops were disengaged enough from the lesson that turning to draw their friend’s attention to the message or website they were looking at was more and more common.

    Granted, I haven’t found technological aids of any kind terribly useful; a piece of chalk and a lively discussion topic meet my needs most of the time. It’s true that people are naturally drawn to bells and whistles, but it’s also true that they are naturally drawn to an interesting question and a good conversation…


  4. nhokanson says:

    Excellent comments for debate ” Siobhan Curious.” Using technology simply for technology’s sake is not useful, and I would agree that “an interesting question and a good conversation” can draw students in.

    Technology, in this case laptops, must add value in some way to any learning situation. If it is only a distraction then it obviously serves no valid purpose. If the laptop becomes a tool that can facilitate and enhance the learning process in a classroom situation and can be integrated actively as part of the process I know it can be a great tool. Simply allowing students to show up with a laptop because they can is not a sytematic approach, and I think that may be part of the problem for those who would rather not see these machines in the classroom.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful views.

  5. Stuart Smith says:

    Well I broadly agree technology should never be for technologies sake. However I am reading lots of references to ‘pen and paper’ and even ‘chalk and board’ these are technologies too. I get distracted by the tapping of chalk on the board and the screech as it scratches the surface – perhaps it should be banned from the clasroom? The world is changing and we can access information faster than ever before. We need to be educating students how to manage that access, which means we need to be finding the best ways of doing this. At the moment those teachers who shun newer technologies risk disadvantaging their students. Whether the educator likes it or not their students will use new technologies outside of the classroom and they need help to make sure they can use access to resources like Wikipedia etc. wisely. This can only be done if educators make the commitment to ‘skill-up’ and get in there and help their students use new technologies wisely

  6. nhokanson says:

    Good points Stuart. A professor from my master’s program reminded us from time to time that sometimes the best technology to use is a pencil and a piece of paper. You are correct in that anything can be distracting in a classroom and that living in a digital age calls for a new skill set for educators to help students navigate new technologies. The students will use them regardless of whether or not they are given an opportunity to do so in a formal educational setting.

    In your statements you point out a decision for educators to make, a “commitment to skill-up.” This is what I believe Will Richardson was getting at in his blog post “Why is it so Hard for Educators to Focus on their Own Learning?” Using technology effectively requires a network of learners, a community of practice, a learning community, people working together teaching one another, whatever you want to call it, but the responsibility rests on the individual to take part in such a collaborative effort. Keys to involvement and a “commitment to skill-up” are invites, inclusion, teaming, interdisciplinary projects, and simple conversation or dialogue.

  7. Stuart Smith says:

    Thanks nhokanson. I think we can possibly use the old phrase (old the UK anyway) you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Giving educators the tools is one thing but we need to encourage their actual use, exploration and even the risk of breaking them! In this respect it does not matter what the technology is but if a means of communication deeply affects our students lives e.g. mobile, ipod etc. and it doesn’t affect the educator then we are missing an potential avenue to connect with that student. I sincerely hope the days of the classroom being a place of long rows with learning conformity are long gone! However, in replacing that with a more personalised learning experience we take the risk that the leaner may want to take us down avenues of interaction we never thought of! So we need educators to be engaged with innovation and this engagement should be critical, so that we can hep sharpen the critical evaluation of the learners!

  8. bradkovach says:

    In high school, students with laptops are rare. I take mine on days I KNOW are going to be note-taking days. I find that I can take better notes in less time, and people really appreciate it when I email them the notes I take. I experienced a “viral” effect on our final exam when people not even in MY class had notes I took.

    Conclusion: Laptops in classrooms = good. If you are a college student IM’ing while the professor talks, you’re wasting your own money.

  9. TeacherJay says:

    Siobhan – it sounds to me like the problem you are dealing with is not the actual use of the laptops, but their novelty. In time, and with some training for students on their proper use I think it could be an effective tool.

    Stuart – I like your comments that these newer technologies will be used outside of the classroom. Education, in any subject at any level should be preparing students for the world outside and what the future will bring and that cannot be ignored. Also, the use of computer-aided-instruction to tailor lessons to a particular student’s needs is an interesting topic. Some teachers fear this development as a possible replacement of their skills (as has been prophesied by some futurists). I really believe it will remain as a tool, not a replacement, but you are accurate that the customized instruction will benefit students – still I think it will always require a teacher’s intuition to know how to apply it best: to program the material and also how much and when to use it – there’s a lot more to supporting child development than just the “book smarts”.

    Brad – I think some of the resistance to laptops in the classroom will also be from the fact that you are sharing your notes meaning that some students are not using their own – this is not consistent with the traditional model of schooling.

  10. nhokanson says:

    Excellent comments and debate everyone! This conversation will continue to develop. We are working our way through so many things with technology and learning. The definitions and boundaries keep changing, and it is important that we keep working together to find out what works well and what needs improvement. We want technology to enhance the learning process and facilitate self-directed learning, collaboration, and a meaningful approach to education. Technology should provide balance not contention.

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