Also from a loyal reader (though I came across this one myself, too): from the Chronicle of Higher Education blog/site Lingua Franca, “Why I’m Asking You Not to Use Laptops,” by Anne Curzan, who is an English professor at the University of Michigan. In the nutshell, her reasoning for the no laptop rule includes the dangers of multitasking and not paying attention and being distracting to others because of your open laptop. And she even trots out a frankly dubious study about how it’s better to take handwritten notes.
These basic arguments against laptops come up often enough with faculty in the hallways and at department meetings and the like. I always find it interesting how many of my faculty colleagues who have these kinds of “no technology” rules in their teaching spend time in various meetings with half an eye on their smartphones or tablets or laptops.
In any event, I disagree with Curzan. For starters, I think the dangers of “multitasking” are grossly exaggerated. Don’t get me wrong– I’m not saying we should all be texting while zipping down the Interstate at 80 miles an hour or whatever. I’m just saying that most of us do a certain level of multitasking all the time. As I’m typing this post, I’m listening to music, something I almost always do while writing (though not usually while reading). We drive and drink coffee, which is probably a more dangerous habit than talking on the phone while driving. My wife and son habitually play silly games on various devices while we watch junk TV as a family. And yeah, I think you can be listening to and even paying attention to a lecture or a meeting while having your laptop open.
I also think what Curzan is also saying to her students (probably not consciously of course) is “pay attention to me because I’m the professor/boss/sage on the stage.” To which I guess I’d say “well, be more interesting.” Or, as is the case with the kinds of classes I teach, have students talk with each other, make stuff, and otherwise interact. Admittedly, that’s a lot easier to do in the kind of classes I teach (writing courses capped at 15-25 students) than it is to do in the big lecture hall classes Curzan is teaching. So until we get rid of these big lecture hall classes, I guess she has to rely on being more interesting.
And as for taking notes by hand: as someone who failed handwriting in the fourth grade and who rarely hand writes anything other than a list or doodles, let me assure you that I would not learn more if I took notes by hand. I’d take few notes. For me, any kind of serious writing means typing.
Granted, it’s pretty easy for students to get distracted by cell phones or laptops, especially when they’re sitting in a boring lecture hall class. And I don’t know if my students always use their devices that wisely– taking pictures of the board with their cell phone, for example. But it’s not as if students automatically paid attention before these devices were around. When I was in a boring class as a high school and then college student, I tended to read paperbacks or magazines.
Anyway, if you’re in my class, bring the laptop.