Discourse / Editorials / February 23, 2011

On laptops in class

In a world that is ever dependent on technology, I find it odd that so many Knox professors prohibit laptops in their classrooms.

So far this academic year, I can name two professors I have had who not only discourage student technology usage in their classrooms, but also openly prohibit it. One can speculate as to their reasoning.

First and foremost, these professors argue, laptops are a distraction. Students, instead of paying close attention to classroom activities, might end up on Facebook. In light of the liberal arts tradition, they should be actively participating in the all-important classroom discussion, but instead they might end up browsing TKS online, paying no attention to the instructor or their peers.

Second, these professors argue, there is always room for academic dishonesty when an information source not visible to the professor is in front of the student. Why read the assigned text when you can pull up an outline or SparkNotes on your laptop and sound as enlightened as a classmate who actually read the text when the discussion turns to you?

Third, these professors might argue, there is room for disrespectful activity. Why pay attention to the instructor in front of you when you can be typing up the assignment due next period?

Ultimately, I think these arguments are old fashioned, antiquated and similar to the type of classroom management my second grade teacher employed. While her micromanaging of the classroom was appropriate when we were second graders who were afforded little self-responsibility, that style of teaching is not appropriate for college students. College students should be responsible for themselves and their education; it is inappropriate for professors to coddle their students.

In arguing against their prohibition of classroom technology I first and foremost urge one to consider the Honor Code. Do professors who prohibit technology for the aforementioned reasons seriously expect to retain their legitimacy as believers and followers of the Honor Code? Obviously, if they were to argue against having laptops in their classrooms solely on the basis that a type of “proctoring” should exist to prevent the possibility of academic dishonesty they would violate their commitment to the Honor Code. But on a deeper level, I have to ask: how can students be trusted to refrain from cheating on tests or plagiarizing when they write their papers by the same professors who cannot trust that students will use laptops as the legitimate academic tools that they are without being babysat?

Some seem to act as if laptops have no place in the classroom, when I would strongly beg to differ. I can cite multiple times when I have been able to contribute to classroom discussion because I was able to quickly look up a fact or argument. I can cite multiple times when I was able to assist the class by providing an answer to a date or statistic simply by having Google readily available. Most importantly (for me), I can also cite multiple classes in which I took notes on the computer. I find this method of note-taking most beneficial as, not only are the notes neat (and in my case, for once legible), but they can easily be organized and ordered in an outline format, do not require that we waste paper or notebooks in printing out notes and are easily e-mailed to an ill classmate if need be. Regardless, the benefits of having laptops in the classroom outweigh any of the possible pitfalls.

On another note, I have to ask why an institution that claims to be “green” and “environmentally friendly” does not encourage its faculty to use more PDF documents or eBooks that can be read on one’s laptop. This would prevent unnecessary printing, duplication and book purchases. Then again, I always wonder why TKS still is in print form.

Why can an institution that usurps my tuition dollars to bureaucrats under the guise of a “green fee” not strike up enough backbone to demand institutional cohesiveness when it comes to actually moving forward as environmentally friendly institution and making books and paperwork a thing of the past?

The fact is, student laptops and educational technology are the way of the future. Innovative classroom technologies like Moodle are the way of the future. EReaders (and even iPads) replacing textbooks are the way of the future. A classroom that prohibits beneficial technology and does not trust students enough to use laptops for their various education functions is not the way of the future.

Professors who refuse to change are relics that will promote their own obsolescence. Technology-free classrooms will soon be a thing of the past and, I fear, the same will be true for the liberal arts tradition if it refuses to progress into educational modernity.

Ryan Carlson

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