March 8, 2007

Laptop Use Bothers Profs

Print More

Students and faculty at Cornell constantly feel the affects of technology, whether they are checking assignments on Blackboard, preparing PowerPoint presentations for class or pre-enrolling with Bear Access at 6 a.m. However, recent debates at Columbia over laptop use in the classroom have raised questions about whether there should be university limits to where technology belongs.

According to the Columbia Daily Spectator, professors at Barnard College have been complaining about laptop use in their classrooms. They are worried that students with computers are browsing the Internet or checking their e-mail instead of paying attention.

A town hall meeting was subsequently called by faculty and students to debate whether or not to ban laptop use in the classroom altogether. Although it was ultimately decided that laptop bans should be instituted on a case-by-case basis, the debate still showed a general concern in the community concerning laptop use.

At Cornell, however, while laptops are widely used in classrooms, there have not been any such complaints.

“If anything like this was going to happen it would be up to the individual faculty to make the decision,” said Charles Walcott Ph.D. ’59, dean of faculty, “but I certainly haven’t heard anyone say anything … and if it was a big deal, I certainly would have.”

Indeed, many Cornell faculty members seem to have no problem with laptop use in their classrooms.

“It seems to me that it’s a fine thing if it’s easier for [the students] to type than write,” Walcott said.

“It’s fine with me,” said Prof. Judy Bernstock, art history. “Many of them have become more comfortable writing on the computer then writing by hand, and if it helps them it doesn’t bother me.”

Even those professors who find it distracting, like Prof. Michele Moody-Adams, philosophy, vice provost of undergraduate education, do not seem ready to take the next step.

“As a professor, I do personally find the presence of laptops — including one student who takes notes on a laptop during class — very distracting,” Moody-Adams said. “[But I’m] not sure I’d be ready to ban them.”

There are many reasons why laptop use makes note taking easier. Students can type quickly, easily correct, expand, or change what they write and easily store notes.

“I use [my laptop] because I can type faster than I write,” said Katie Post ’09. “I can use spell-check, I can modify my notes easier and in some classes I can even cut and paste pictures from the lecture slides to make my notes more complete. I have to admit that in some smaller classes it’s not appropriate and I don’t use it, but in lectures it’s really helpful.”

In terms of how distracting laptops are, many professors and students agree that if a student does not want to pay attention in class it does not matter if they have a laptop or not.

“If they don’t want to listen to lecture they can also stay at home or go to sleep,” Walcott said. “I certainly have one or two that do that everyday.”

“Students who are surfing the net or playing games on their laptops would most likely find other ways to distract themselves if laptops were banned,” said Joy Kull ‘09

While Columbia University students and professors may be engaged in hot debate, at Cornell, laptop use in classrooms has yet to become a problem.

Instead, overall, both professors and students seem to be pretty unconcerned
with the issue.

“I can imagine a bunch of students typing on old typewriters going click-ity clack would be disturbing,” Walcott said, “but laptops are so quiet I don’t see why they would be a problem at all.”