All entries for Sunday 07 May 2006

May 07, 2006

Laptops in lectures

Writing about web page http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060503/ap_on_hi_te/colleges_no_laptops

I was interested to read this article about more lecturers (in the US) deciding to ban student use of laptops during lectures. The argument is simple enough: laptops, at best, turn students into stenographers; at worst, students are playing online poker, IMing their friends, emailing, blogging, anything except engaging with the lecture itself.

At the University of Pennsylvania, law professor Charles Mooney banned laptops from his classes two years ago. Around that time, said Mooney, he was serving as an expert witness in a lawsuit. During a break in his deposition, he recalled asking the stenographer if she found the case interesting. She replied that she didn't remember anything she had taken down, Mooney said. "I thought, 'That's what my students are doing,'".

To me the interesting question is what laptops in lectures are actually good for. Taking notes faster, on the basis that most people nowadays can type faster than they can write? Getting notes in electronic form straightaway rather than having to copy–type them later, so that they can be more effectively searched and cross–referenced? Easier inter–mingling of the lecturer's handout materials with the student's own notes (assuming that the handout is already on the laptop when the lecture takes place)?

I notice that none of these uses require an internet connection. It's possible in principle, I suppose, that a wifi–equipped laptop could be useful in allowing the student to look up additional content relating to the lecture via Google or whatever. But I bet nobody actually does this effectively; it would be too difficult to multi–task the searching, the listening and the note–taking. So if internet–equipped laptops in lectures serve no useful purpose, then rather than penalising students who find laptops a better way to take notes, would it be a better strategy just not to provide wired/wireless networking in lecture theatres?


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