University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Should laptops be allowed in classrooms?

Some professors allow it, some don't. Left to themselves, students often have laptops open in classrooms and auditoria

Surely, access to internet and multimedia at your place of learning should make for an enriched learning experience?

Laptops and smartphones are now certainly commonplace within the classroom. The classroom like everywhere else is subject to your gadgets delivering satisfaction through mind-tingling pings, emojis and endorphin rushing email notifications that are difficult to ignore.

There are no common university rules on the laptop/smart phone issue and it is up to each individual professor, whether it should be allowed or not.

So laptop or not? We wanted to find out what the arguments are, for and against specifically laptops in the classroom and auditoria.

Digital notes, cross referencing, visuals

Julia Brinkmeier, a student of the Molecular Biomedicine programme at the University of Copenhagen takes a liberal stance. She appreciates that “Facebook etc. is an obvious distraction. But,” she argues, “laptops mean that note taking has become easy, they have great visualisation tools, they are easier to carry around than books, and sharing is instant. Also it saves a lot of time when solving complex math which I appreciate.”

The quick and detailed digital note taking, the cross referencing of facts and the illustrative visuals of concepts being taught. All of these are arguments for the use of laptops in class. Less paper usage, and quicker time scheduling are other convincing arguments put forth by students.

“If I am having difficulty to imagine what’s being taught – the internet quickly comes to my aid. Then I can follow the rest of the lecture better,” one student remarks.

Double edged sword

Teaching staff that we interviewed are well aware of the arguments for laptops, and they have been around for decades.

But the debate began when lessons stopped becoming a collective experience with the teacher as the fulcrum, and internet access allowed laptops and smart phones to entice students attention.

Doodling better than taking notes on a laptop?

For Associate Professor Marcel Bogers from the Department of Food and Resource Economics at UCPH the “main advantage is the chance to directly engage with suggested readings, e-learning modules or answering polls. These are in line with the reality of these devices occupying such an integral part of the students¹ lives and learning experience. However the fact that they are connected to the internet throws up some obvious distractions that most students will succumb to.”

Research: Doodle, scratching and scribbling is better

Associate Prof Thomas Just Sørensen, from the Department of Chemistry who instructs classes of different sizes is against the use of laptops in his classrooms.

“The obvious usefulness in digital note taking, filling in a questionnaire or accessing lecture relevant media is greatly outweighed by the distraction of one flashing screen that disrupts everyone else’s´ attention. In general, 99 per cent of students don’t have the backbone to stay focused with a screen in front of them,” he says.

is there a case for moderating the use of laptops within classrooms?

A collaborative triple study between Princeton and University of California – Los Angeles showed that even when solely focused on taking notes (not considering multi-tasking), those that used laptops rather than long hand writing showcased significantly impaired learning and shallow information processing.

Strong case for restriction

Laptop users were found to write longer notes than their longhand counterparts. On average, they tend to transcribe word to word rather than assimilate the essence of the material.

A study from the University of Plymouth showed convincingly that doodling tended to recall up to a one-third more information on surprise memory tests.

Speaking scientifically, there is a strong case for restricting the use of laptops in classrooms and auditoria if the sole objective is to maximise students’ learning, attention, listening and memory skills.

Maybe the teacher is just dull

Sandra Kessler, another student of the Molecular Biomedicine programme at the University of Copenhagen, only speaks for herself, but she prefers not to have her laptop open in class.

“You obviously need your laptop if you are doing a course in bioinformatics or IT.” However, “I, personally, feel like I learn and remember more when I take notes down by hand.”

Blanket bans on laptops in the classroom often hide the fact that most students are getting distracted because the teaching methods are a bit … well, boring.

As Sandra puts it: “When lectures begin to get really dull, the laptops provide a welcome distraction to at least prevent me from falling asleep! I also notice that I often just copy what’s in the slides when its being taught and we haven’t been given access to it before. If we had the slides on our laptops already, we could listen more and note down only the key messages in our own words”.

So what do you think? Do you have your laptop open in class? Do your professors have an open or closed laptop policy? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Comment below and let us know about it!

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