Laptops in the Classroom

laptops-classroomCase Western lawprof Jonathan Adler points to a WaPo story on the trend toward universities banning the use of laptop computers by students in classrooms.   Since laptops weren’t ubiquitous when I was teaching, I’m agnostic on the subject.   This quote, uncommented upon by Adler, however, caught my eye:

One recent semester, [Diane E. Sieber, an associate professor of humanities at the University of Colorado at Boulder] tracked the grades of 17 student laptop addicts. At the end of the term, their average grade was 71 percent, “almost the same as the average for the students who didn’t come at all.”

If students who aren’t bothering to show up to class are getting C’s in professor Sieber’s classes, I would submit that there’s something terribly wrong with either her examinations, grading, or teaching.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. just me says:

    I had a college professor that didn’t take roll, he figured students who wanted to do well would come and those who didn’t wouldn’t.

    On regular lecture days there would be about 10-15 of us there and on test days about 100.

    As for laptops it is hard to say. Laptops weren’t really common when I was in college, so I don’t really have an opinion based on experience. I think they would probably be more of a distraction in the classroom, although I can see some benefits as well (I have a son who doesn’t write quickly due to a disability but can keyboard rather fast-taking notes on a laptop might make notetaking less stressful).

  2. R. Dave says:

    Nah, I pulled mostly As in both college and law school, and I probably set the world record for class-skipping. The vast, vast majority of courses are closely based on the reading list, so physical attendance at lectures is really only useful for students who need the extra hand-holding and guided learning. (Of course, small seminars that are focused on discussion rather than information transfer are obviously an exception to that rule.)

  3. just me says:

    The vast, vast majority of courses are closely based on the reading list, so physical attendance at lectures is really only useful for students who need the extra hand-holding and guided learning. (Of course, small seminars that are focused on discussion rather than information transfer are obviously an exception to that rule.)

    I think it depends a lot on the professors. Many of my college professors-at least in my major-taught information in addition to the reading material. Also one of my professors had a series of required student presentations, and we were expected to take notes and the professor would have test questions over those presentations, so attendance was a must to do well on the tests. But there were definitely some courses where somebody who completed the reading and had a good handle on it could do fine without attending the lectures.

  4. I think a bright student could probably pull a high B in my large gen ed classes by just reading the textbook, taking the weekly reading quizzes in the online system (Angel at my current institution), and showing up for exams.

    But most of my students who skip class regularly aren’t that bright. And I’m pretty sure my students who bring laptops to class do better on average than the skippers, although that’s without controlling for any other factors (like baseline aptitude).

  5. Ole Sarge says:

    Only time I took a laptop to class were for a programming class, a database structure design class and my math classes. The obvious “duh!” for the computer classes.

    For the math classes, depending on the time of the class, my study group met either before, or after the class. I had the ‘on-line’ references, the instructor’s lecture notes and power point slides and homework assignments loaded on the laptop. Having our laptops with us meant we would work on them right away.

    But… in some other classes, especially in my masters program; for some, having your computer is a BIG distraction.

  6. Franklin says:

    An unnamed associate of mine, a current college student, recently f**ked up her computer by accidentally installing a new OS (don’t ask). The funniest part of the episode was when she claimed she could no longer take notes in class.

  7. Franklin says:

    I might note with apologies to “just me” that she did not have any disability that would hamper manual note-taking.

  8. Mr. Prosser says:

    I find it interesting that CU requires all incoming freshmen to have a laptop when they enroll. It’s obvious the quoted prof is conducting some sort of “gimme” class if one can get a C and not even show up. For some, the note taking is important and for math classes Ole Sarge is a student after my own heart.

  9. Michael says:

    I do mostly online classes now, but I find Tomboy Notes invaluable. I use it for everything, not just school.

    My hand-written notes aren’t searcheable (a major win), I can’t link one portion of text to a note on a different page, I can’t see what texts links to the page I’m currently reading, and I can’t make them easily available wherever I am.

  10. Brett says:

    On regular lecture days there would be about 10-15 of us there and on test days about 100.

    Heh. That reminds me of a psychology class my dad took. The teacher outright refused to tell when the tests and quizzes would take place, so students were left guessing.

    That might be a little extreme (people can and do have medical, family, and such problems), but it’s one idea (and according to my dad, she had very few absentees).

  11. Brett says:

    Sorry, I want to add just a little more-

    The vast, vast majority of courses are closely based on the reading list, so physical attendance at lectures is really only useful for students who need the extra hand-holding and guided learning. (Of course, small seminars that are focused on discussion rather than information transfer are obviously an exception to that rule.)

    I did some of that myself in the lower classes, but I’ve got to ask – what type of classes were you taking? You can get away with some of that in lower level political science classes, for example (because a lot of it really is reading books and writing essays), but I suspect that it is much, much more difficult and risky to do in the hard sciences and engineering (particularly since many of those classes have mandatory lab time requirements in addition to the lectures).

    I had the ‘on-line’ references, the instructor’s lecture notes and power point slides and homework assignments loaded on the laptop. Having our laptops with us meant we would work on them right away.

    That’s why I usually brought my laptop to my classes. That, and it’s just a lot easier for me to type notes (I’m a very, very fast typist) than to write them out by hand.

  12. JohnG says:

    Hard Science and engineering is pretty easy to not show up for because they pretty much have to teach the book. If the goal of the class is to learn how to do a certain kind of problem or make a machine with certain types of parts, and the book can’t show you how to do it, the book is pretty worthless.