Should Professors Allow Students to Use Laptops in the Classroom?

Today, Justin Taylor has written a short post titled “Why Some Teachers are Banning Laptops from the Classroom.” In that post, he cites some criticisms of classroom laptop use from Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs.  He also points to a longer essay on this topic that argues that handwritten notes are more profitable for learning than typed notes. Anti-laptop advocates believe they have science on their side on this one.

In the past couple of years, I have been in several conversations with Southeastern Seminary colleagues who have, or have considered, banning laptop use in their classrooms. While I have not imposed such a ban in my classes, I have to constantly keep students from answering emails and surfing the web while in class. This is a major irritation. At the same time, to be completely candid, as one who struggles with minor attention deficit issues, I would almost certainly be tempted to surf the web and answer emails in class if I was a student today.

Do you think professors should allow students to use laptops in the classroom? Or, should professors ban laptop use and require students to take handwritten notes? Is there some middle way? I would be particularly interested in hearing the thoughts of current Southeastern students and those who have graduated in the age of free WiFi from SEBTS or a similar school.



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  1. Brian   •  

    I think the answer would be to make WiFi available only in non-classroom areas (such as the Library, Ledford Center, and dorms). There is no need for Wifi in Chapel or the classroom. Granted, students could use their mobile phones for router and still connect anyway, but you could make a policy against that.

    I do want to say on the other hand that I believe students should be allowed to bring laptops to the classroom. I take better notes in OneNote due to the easy of moving information or correcting a misunderstanding I had when taking notes. I think we need to be careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Internet access is the problem, not the laptop. If I scribble or draw in my notebook while ignoring my professor, I will simply play Solitaire on my laptop. Without Internet access, though, there will not be the motivation to “have to respond” to something I do not know is there yet.

  2. PJ King   •  

    I take notes on my computer, but strive to not allow distractions during class. However, I agree with the notion of my fellow Wacoan that others’ computer usage can be distracting to peers. Even task switching (with screen flashing) can become a distraction to neighbors.

    Some professors in my college and seminary have maintained that technology is a privilege and have threatened to revoke technological privileges from those who use their devices improperly. As a student, I generally approve of this approach as it helps students stay on task.

  3. John   •  

    I bought my first notebook (iBook 14″) in 2004 when I still had 3 semesters left at Beeson Divinity School. After I took notes on it the first day, I had one question: “Why did I wait so long?” I could download books from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library for my papers, research paper topics quickly, and work on my papers during lunch when necessary.

    I’ve always taken thorough notes, so my buddies often asked to borrow my notes. I always had to type them for my buddies anyway because my handwriting’s awful. Besides, I type faster than I can write, so it worked well for me to type my notes. I now sit in meetings and take notes on my iPhone (even if it looks as if I’m texting) or on an iPad.

    Now that I teach in the classroom, I encourage my students now to bring their computing devices, either notebooks or tablets, to take notes. In times of severe weather (I live in the Tuscaloosa area), we can receive emergency notifications the moment the emails arrive. I’ll usually designate one student to keep a watch on either email or the college Web site to notify us if something happens.

    A lot of people blame the device when the blame lies elsewhere. Students must learn that discipline comes with the privileges offered by technology. I sincerely hope seminary students possess the discipline to focus during tedious or “boring” lectures/conversations. (Yes, even seminaries sometimes host boring professors.) God knows they’ll have to focus when a church member’s explaining every excruciating detail of a recent medical procedure during a hospital visitation. It’s better to learn to focus while in a classroom rather than learn it the hard way in actual ministry.

  4. Joel Griffis   •  

    Honestly, for me it has everything to do with whether I view the professor as someone who is actually worth paying attention to. I mean no disrespect, but in some cases, a professor’s lectures can be so worthless (disorganized, auto-piloted, simplistic, soapbox-driven, constant rabbit trails, etc.) that paying attention would legitimately, in my mind, be a bad stewardship of my time.

    But at least one of two things make a professor worth listening to: (a) he himself is engaging, informed, and thoughtful enough to *naturally* hold my attention, or (b) his exam expectations are such that in order for me to make a good grade, I *must* take good notes in class, whether I find him engaging or not.

    A professor should shoot for one or both of these things if he wants to keep his students undistracted by technology. For the record, my church history surveys fulfilled both. ;)

  5. AndyB   •  

    Nathan, good thoughts thanks for sharing.

    I found that writing notes with pen and paper then transferring it to electronic medium greatly enhanced my grades over just typing them.

    Back in my day we didn’t have Wifi or LTE considerations. Seems going the pen and paper router would be even more useful in eliminating these distractions and improving memory retention.

  6. Taylor   •  

    Studies support the theory that laptop users do worse than people that take hand-written notes. While I think that both taking notes by hand, and electronic note taking can at times be helpful, I would argue for a no laptop policy, with an exception clause.

    If a teacher takes away the distraction of the internet, a person can still get on the “smart” phone and surf the web (how smart is that?). Which I believe is alright. If a student is going to be disrespectful toward their professor (i.e., sitting on facebook, pintrest, espn…), and disrespect the people they will minister to in the future, I would rather them be less blatant about their foolishness. I would love it if my classmates here would only use their phones for internet in class! 4″ screens are much less distracting to others than 15″ laptop screens.

    Eliminating the WIFI is not a good option. People will still find other ways to get what they want, i.e., social media, or instant gratification.

    This leads to my second point. There are people here at the seminary whom have disqualified themselves from ministry (in my mind) because of their decisions to sit on their laptops class after class ignoring the wisdom of their teachers. There are people whom I would never recommend as counselors, pastors, ministers, missionaries, etc… because of their lack of integrity in the small matter of being respectful for 1-3 hours in a classroom. If you cannot sit and attentively listen to your professor talk about things that matter to him/her, how will you sit and attentively listen to the people that need the Gospel, counsel, or the love of Jesus?!

    My fear is this: what kind of students will be produced if nothing is done about this issue? Students who are not equipped to minister (by their own choice), and were not warned of their folly (our choice).

    In summation: for the sake of those who will be ministered to by the SEBTS students, and for the sake of the students themselves, I believe laptops should not be allowed in class. However, exceptions can, and should be made by special permission from the professor with the understanding that the use of that tool is a privilege granted by the professor, and that privilege can be taken away if the tool is used improperly.

    *Just to clarify, I am not saying all electronic note takers are disrespectful, simply that it has been my experience at SEBTS that most people who use laptops in class do not use them in a God honoring way.

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