Last updateSat, 28 Mar 2020 1pm


Technology in the Classroom

The use of electronics in classrooms seems to be an ever-evolving topic – whether laptops are helpful or distracting; whether students take notes better if they write or type them. If a student is distracted on their computer, is it their choice as to whether they want to waste class time, or does it distract other students?

Most professors seem to have banned phones easily enough, with almost all syllabi banning them from class use, but sometimes computers, laptops, and tablets are a more complicated matter, since they can be used both positively and negatively. Further difficulties arise when every professor seems to have their own policy on the matter.

“Most of my professors this semester have banned technology,” said one editor. “Four of them are communication professors, and I think that that’s a department that is a lot stricter with electronics lately.”

Lorna Schmidt, a professor in the communication department and director of advising at the University, offered up several possible reasons as to why electronic devices may be banned. “Most of the classes are interactive, really face-to-face interactive,” she explained. “We don’t want people distracted by technology. Facebook is always there, there’s the little notifications popping up – it can be distracting.”

Schmidt’s own policies mostly ban electronic devices, unless students have a specific need for them, such as researching a topic or doing group work. She also highlighted another issue – that even when students are using computers for academic use, some students who type slowly or can’t type without looking at the keyboard can be distracted by that, and in some cases, students are irritated by the sounds of keys clacking.

“I think the class levels might have something to do with it,” said one editor. “The more serious or involved the class is, the less time there is for distraction with technology.”  

Many of the schools and departments at the University have no official policy on electronics or computers, according to responses from the Deans of the Schools of Education, Science, Nursing and Health Studies, and Social Work. However, there has been research that argues that laptops are detrimental to classroom learning.

Research by students at Michigan State University suggests that computers create self-inflicted distraction, despite creating the illusion of enhanced engagement with online course content. The study found that students spend up to one-third of the class time zoned out online, and the longer they spend online, the more their grades suffer.

According to an article published by Scientific American in 2014, taking notes on a laptop doesn’t help students memorize anything either – in fact, those who handwrite their notes tend to remember better. The article theorizes that this may be because those typing often write down everything that is said verbatim, while those handwriting notes have to dissect the most important parts of a lecture.               

“I handwrite everything; it’s how I study and remember things,” said one Outlook editor. “When you handwrite notes in class, you write the important things.”

However, some students believe that it is their choice to use laptops, with the memorization hurdles and distractions all part of the package.

“Everyone has a different work ethic, and a different process of learning, so whatever people prefer to do is what they should do,” said one Outlook editor. “Although professors do care about a student getting the most out of the class, it’s ultimately their decision to hinder themselves if they know that technology easily distracts them.”

“As long as the student is not doing something obviously distracting like playing music, they should be able to choose for themselves whether or not they can use them,” said another editor. “We are considered adults, and we are paying the tuition, so we should be able to make that choice.”

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