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Professors, students debate laptop use

The laptop debate: Are they needed in class?

The Communication Studies and Theatre Art department has discussed whether or not to ban laptops in the classroom, according to Aileen Buslig, associate professor and chair of the CSTA department.

“There was a strong leaning toward having a department policy,” Buslig said.
If a formal policy was to be created by the department, the final decision regarding laptop use would be left to the individual professor, Buslig said.

Discussions about restricting technology in communication classrooms began last semester when a sudden increase in cell phone use was disrupting classes, Cynthia Carver, communication professor, said.

Students were not showing respect or listening effectively in classes, she said. Soon, the department’s discussion regarding technology turned to laptops, because in large classes the temptation to be on the Internet is immense, Carver said.

Carver said students have complained to her about distracting laptop use in class. Distractions come from the lights and pictures on the screen, and the clicking keys, she said. In group settings, laptops cause a physical barrier, Carver said, which stops students from interacting properly.

Because of the interpersonal skills the communications department works with students to develop, limiting laptop use in class makes sense, Carver said.

Students who prefer to take notes on their laptops in Carver’s class are encouraged to do so without connecting to the Internet, she said. While Carver said she can see some benefits to student use of the Internet in the classroom, she will not allow it in her classes.

“[The benefits] are outweighed by the distraction factor,” she said.

The communication department faculty has differing opinions about the importance of laptops in the classroom, Carver said. Some professors do not allow them, and some find them necessary for classroom instruction.

Tracy Briggs, an adjunct instructor, teaches the Broadcast Newswriting and Reporting course in the communication department. Her class content requires students to use laptops, she said.

“I don’t think I’d be effectively teaching in if they were handwriting their stories,” she said.

Briggs said professors should treat their students like adults and allow them to work and take notes on their laptops during class time. Students, in turn, should take responsibility for their actions, she said, and realize they are only hurting themselves if they are wasting time on the Internet during class.

“It’s going to happen, because it’s human nature,” Briggs said.

Nate Rowan, a senior, has seen some students use the Internet in class to increase their learning, but many have not, he said.

“A majority of people who use it use it ineffectively,” he said. “It doesn’t take a genius to walk into a communication class, especially a big class, and see a majority of students on Facebook.”

Certain classes can benefit more from Internet use than others, Rowan said, but there are some that do not need it as a resource. In his Small Group Communication course, students were busy interacting face-to-face with their peers, and did not need to be on their laptops, he said, and any notes were easily hand written.

Although he owns a laptop, Rowan said he does not bring it to class unless it is required. This helps him avoid the urge to check Facebook, e-mail, and other distractions, he said.

“I’m old-fashioned and still like to take notes by hand,” Rowan said.

Gay Rawson, associate professor and chair of the French department, teaches the capstone course Engaged with the World: 21st Century Technology, in which students learn how technological skills can effectively apply to the workplace. Rawson said any conversation regarding technology in the classroom should involve two objectives: today’s learner’s needs and technical development within the college.

The student approach to learning has changed over the last few years, Rawson said, because today’s students want flexibility, choice and independence in their classrooms. She said professors can tell when students’ eyes are glazing over during a lecture, regardless of whether there are laptops being used in class. It is not solely the students’ fault, she said, when Internet access is distracting students from the lesson plan.

“It’s also my fault as the teacher, that I wasn’t engaging,” she said.

Rawson said she incorporates students’ use of laptops and Internet access into class discussion to make them accountable to their own learning. When she sees a student losing focus on the class discussion, she asks them to search for a fact pertaining to the conversation, she said. This student contribution to class discussions enriches the conversation, Rawson said, and helps students relate to the themes of the lesson.

Responsible Internet use during class is all about boundaries, Rawson said. Laptops in the classroom help students develop skills to use the Internet responsibly and respectfully in a work environment, she said. These skills, she said, would involve knowing to put the computer away when it was not needed.

“Part of our job as teachers is to teach responsible usage,” Rawson said.

Rawson said her students wish they could understand the difficulty some faculty members have adapting their teaching style to the technological changes facing the current generation of college students.

Part of the struggle in adjusting to new technology, Rawson said, is the difficulty that comes with change. Some professors, Rawson said, did not like to see the switch to whiteboards from chalkboards in the Grose, Academy and Bishop Whipple buildings. Chalkboards are predictable teaching tools, she said, and white boards – along with new digital projectors – now in the classrooms are more of a hassle for people who are used to the chalkboards.

Technology is still evolving, Rowan said, and it is something his generation is still trying to grasp. To eliminate the use of technology in the classroom would be regressing, he said.

“We definitely want to progress to be more comfortable with using [the Internet],” Rowan said, “but there’s a time and a place. It comes down to the individual responsibility.”

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