Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Computer Bans Hitting the Mainstream?

I was gratified recently to see an article about laptop bans in college classrooms hit the mainstream--which in this case means my computer's MSN homepage. The article, Laptops: A College Essential, But for Class?, can be linked to here.

Regular readers of this blog know that computer (mis)use in class is a subject of strong interest for me. Recent posts on this topic include the following:

Multicommenting on Multitasking
Multitasking in the Classroom
More on Computer Bans
Computer Bans
Computers in Class

These posts (which are in reverse chronological order) pretty much lay out my thinking on the subject to date.

Why do I find this subject so intriguing? I've been accused of being more concerned with preventing people from "computer doodling" than with being interesting and engaging in front of the class--a cheap shot to be sure, but this is the Internet after all, the domain of the anonymous jab. No, what really draws me to the subject is the fact that I am of two minds about computer use in class. Namely:

Computers are good in class, because they can be used to make class more engaging. In that sense they are at worst a fancy chalkboard for professors, and at best an interactive learning tool.

  • When computers work this way, they can really liven up class. Students can do instant research and contribute to the discussion.

Computers are bad in class, because of the many siren songs they sing (like Internet access, e-mail, IM, movies on DVD, games, etc.).

  • I often take my laptop to faculty meetings, and I hear these songs myself (but heroically resist them).
  • I have actually received e-mails from students that they sent while sitting in class. Which sort of boggles my mind--especially since they told me that in their e-mails! On the one hand, at least they weren't sitting in my class at the time--but since my goal is not to interfere with my colleagues' lectures, that doesn't make me feel much better.

Computers are good in class, because some people take notes better with computers than by hand.

Computers are bad in class, because people do more transcribing of lectures and less listening and engaging in class discussion. I teach at a law school, not a stenography school.

Computers are good in class, because students can IM each other to keep up with the lecture and help each other out when called on.

Computers are bad in class for the same reason.

Computers are bad in class, because when people misuse them, say to watch a movie or surf the web, it is distracting to other students. It is one thing for a student to be distracted by choice, but entirely another for that student to distract others against their will.

What's interesting to me about the MSN piece is that it demonstrates that the subject has gained enough traction to be considered a mainstream issue. Which makes me feel good, since I think about it a lot.

All in all, I have decided to let things lie this year, or at least this fall, given that my views on the matter are in conflict. So computers are allowed in my classes, and many people are using them (hopefully for class purposes). But I do plan to declare "computer free" days and see how that affects class. Whatever happens, it is almost certain that I will be blogging on this subject again sometime soon.

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