Michael Weyne Li / Sun Staff Photographer

After Student Assembly passed Resolution 19 in its meeting on Thursday, students and professors discuss the role technology plays in the classroom.

February 22, 2017

Free the Laptop: Students, Faculty Deliberate Over Technology Policies in Classrooms

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While pen and paper used to be the norm in a lecture hall, Student Assembly argues that laptops are now the necessary instruments for effective learning  to the dismay of some professors, students and teaching assistants alike.

During last week’s meeting, S.A. passed Resolution 19, “Recommending Uniformity in Faculty Laptop Policies,” sponsored by Assemblymember Noah Chovanec ’18.

The resolution calls for “professors and instructors, especially in the humanities and social sciences” to “allow students to use laptops in lectures and discussion sections where note-taking is necessary and/or the reading materials can be accessed online.”

Chovanec explained why he chose to support the resolution, even as a student who does not regularly use his laptop.

“I don’t believe that a student should be forbidden from using a laptop to take notes in class, provided they are not using their laptops for other purposes, potentially distracting other students,” Chovanec said. “As someone who usually doesn’t use my laptop for note-taking, I still see the value in it.”

S.A. president Jordan Berger ’17 also expressed strong support, drawing from her own experience where laptop policies could restrict her scheduling choices.

“Uniformity in faculty laptop policies is important because students shouldn’t have to decide what class to take based upon the rules that professors make for the classroom,” she added. “As a student with a disability, no-technology policies in classrooms make me cringe.”

However, not all members of the community are in agreement, as the resolution drew mixed responses from students, professors and teaching assistants.

“I believe that students should be granted the autonomy to make their own decision regarding laptop usage,” said Liam Foley ’19. “Laptop usage enables me to conduct my own research on the topic and thus, be more engaged in the conversation.”

Opposing S.A. members, Abigail Prisloe ’18 argued against laptop autonomy, especially in classrooms with more students.

“When I have to physically take notes, it makes more connections in my brain.”” Prisloe said. “I think laptops should be banned in any class that’s not large. It’s a huge distraction. There’s a lot of multitasking being done.”

While taking notes by hand is crucial to Prisloe’s learning style, some students suggested that their different learning styles reflect their decision whether to use technology in classrooms.

“Each student has a different way of understanding and keeping track of the material. It may be necessary for professors to allow students to individually assess whether it’s right for them,” said Aneil Gill ’20.

Teaching assistants and professors said that laptops are usually banned in class because they can be a distraction and may limit interactions between students.

Prof. Maria Theresa Savella, Asian studies, explained that laptop usage is often dependent on the subject area in class.

“I teach language classes and we need more interaction so laptops are usually not allowed,” Savella said. “It depends on the nature of the assignment whether I allow laptops or not. If it’s PowerPoint presentations or watching videos online, then obviously, students can use their laptops.”

Jordan Jochim grad, a teaching assistant, argued that discussion-style classrooms are not conducive to laptop use.

“In the context of a section discussion, I think [laptops] tend to hurt more than help. I want students to spend more time digesting and responding to others’ comments than transcribing them,” Jochim said.

“I prefer students to keep their laptops put away during section. Since I want to promote an active discussion my concern is that they may serve as a distraction,” Jochim added.

Other professors are more adamant in allowing the use of laptops in both section and lectures.

“I never ban laptops,” said Prof. John Weiss, history. “It helps students and I have no problem with it in section as long as it does not inhibit crosstalk. If you ban them, it seems to me you are obliged to somehow record the lectures.”

Acknowledging that laptops can be “distracting,” Chovanec recommends that faculty members employ methods such as “enforcing ‘no-internet’ policies or monitor laptop usage to make sure students aren’t using their laptops to browse the web, watch videos, play games, etc. in class.”

“We see this resolution simply as a conversation starter. We want faculty to take a step back and think about how accessible their classes are to students,” Chovanec said. “How can we strike a balance between effective note taking and a distraction-free learning environment?”