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Laptops should be allowed their place in the classroom

By Melissa Collins
On February 12, 2013

The University of Connecticut, like many other universities, has made it nearly impossible to survive as a student without owning a laptop. There are online applications and class materials. Yet there is one venue where laptops have not become indispensable. Despite UConn's efforts to embrace technology, some professors have been reluctant to do so in the classroom.
Most students have heard the familiar speech: "I know that many of you like to take notes on your laptops; however, I find that websites such as Facebook tend to be a distraction, and as such will not allow the use of laptops in my class."
It seems like a good idea. Professors spend a lot of time preparing lectures, and failure to pay attention can cost a student their grade. Laptops provide a tempting source of distraction, calling students away to check Facebook while the professor rambles on a bit, and then keeping their attention even as the topic changes to more important information. Bans on laptops take that temptation away from students, theoretically allowing them to pay closer attention to what is going on in class. However, such bans can actually be harmful to a student's performance in the classroom.
To begin with, not having access to laptops in class can cost students money. With many UConn courses using HuskyCT, access to the internet means access to course materials and tools. If students need access to readings posted on HuskyCT while in a class where laptops aren't allowed, they have to print out a copy of the reading to bring with them, which can often be dozens of pages long. If a student has several such classes with online readings, this can mean printing a hundred-plus pages a week, costing students in printer ink and paper.
However, access to the internet is not a laptop's greatest function in the classroom. Increasingly sophisticated software means that keeping notes on a laptop is becoming easier and more organized all the time. These programs allow notes to be edited, searched, highlighted, linked, emailed and backed up on online servers, among other things. Many students that I have talked to feel more comfortable taking notes on a laptop. Our generation spends much more time typing than writing by hand, and so as far as legibility and speed, taking notes on a computer is not only more efficient for some, but can provide some students with much better opportunities to have organized notes for studying. True, some students do better with paper and pencil, but that does not mean students should not have the choice.
Beyond all of this, however, there is another, more fundamental reason that students should be allowed to make their own choice in the matter. Most UConn professors treat their students as adults, and expect students to be responsible for their work. They will not hunt their students down in search of a piece of homework or a project. Students must take charge, be aware of what is due when, and have assignments read and projects done on time in order to pass their course. Professors leave the choice of whether or not a student will pass a class up to that student, and no one else, except when it comes to the matter of laptops in the classroom. Here, some professors clamp down and try to control students' level of participation in class, claiming that the removal of laptops removes the temptation to goof off.
The flaw in this logic, however, is that students have been goofing off long before laptops were around. Before there was Windows 8 there were just plain old windows for students to stare out of, daydreaming while they doodled absently in their notebooks. Refusing students access to a tool that has the potential to be very useful simply because it could provide a distraction isn't a valid argument.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to pay attention in class should be left to the discretion of the student. Just as with their homework, students should have the freedom to fail the class they are paying for, if that is what they decide. Failing a course does affect the professors as well, as they do not want to waste their time, but a student who fails because they were not paying attention will hopefully learn their lesson, perhaps saving them from having to learn it in later classes or in the corporate world, once their time management and internet use may have more direct consequences.
 


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