Clacking keys, scrolling party pictures and alluring wireless Internet on the laptop of the person in front of you quickly draws attention away from the professor and his oh-so-interesting explanation of igneous rock. In a class of hundreds of students, Facebook stalking will go completely unnoticed. And when the people around you start flicking through pictures of their weekends and trips to Europe, the small voice of one’s subconscious asks, “When will you ever need to know the life cycle of a rock?”
Laptops are becoming a constant presence in college classrooms, but are they becoming a distraction that hinders learning in a college course? Educators from MSU and beyond have a variety of opinions about whether laptops are learning tools or simply their competition.
In the digital age, students must know how to use the technology around them. Assistant statistics professor Jennifer Kaplan feels that laptops have much to offer a college classroom.
“Honestly, I could do a whole lot more with class if students were required to bring laptops,” Kaplan said. With advancing technology, class time would be much better spent using the statistic software available.
By using these resources, Kaplan explained that students would be able to have a more hands-on experience.
Elementary education teacher Jane Cagwin explained that the upbringing of children affects how they learn. Children are receiving less verbal stimulation while developing, requiring a more sensory learning experience in later years.
“Smartboards and other touch screen devices bring in the sense of touch when learning,” Cagwin said. “The more sensory systems engaged when information is taught, the more likely the students will retain the information.”
Laptops in the classroom engage students’ sense of touch and sight, making it easier to retain and understand the information being taught for sensory students.
The presence of laptops can also better classroom communication, leading to better understanding.
One professor at the University of Michigan found a unique use for instant messaging. Kaplan explained that this professor opened a chat room between the students and the teaching assistant. This allowed students to type questions to the TA during the lecture, in order to clarify confusing concepts.
Despite the convenience that laptops provide, they can also create many problems. Some students cannot resist the temptation of the Internet. They attempt to take part in multiple activities such as checking Facebook and answering emails while listening to the lecture.
“We as adults think that we are doing more when we multitask,” Cagwin said. However, she explains that the human brain focuses best on one topic at a time.
“Less focused attention leads to less information stored in our long term memory,” Cagwin said.
Senior education major Melissa Byl said multitasking is harmful in a classroom.
“As a teacher, allowing multitasking is ‘asking for it,’” Byl said, explaining that the “it” means “not being able to focus on the task at hand.” Without one’s full attention on the lesson, a student cannot get the full potential out of the class.
On the other hand, public relations doctoral student Thomas Isaacs explained that regulating laptops only creates a student-vs-professor attitude.
Isaacs encourages students who wish to surf the web during class to sit at the back of the class where no other students will be distracted. Isaacs explained that, although he has a large class, it is important to maintain a class discussion to keep students engaged.
However, Kaplan feels like laptops aren’t the root of the issue.
“The students who are paying attention to something else on a laptop wouldn’t be listening to me anyways,” Kaplan said.
Therefore, these professors must find other ways to encourage students to pay attention and use laptops for beneficial purposes only. As Kaplan walks up and down the center aisle of the class, she warns students that anyone caught on Facebook will be playfully ridiculed.
With the size and the variety of college courses, regulating laptop use is hard to do.
“For me, most of my classes are smaller, so it’s frowned upon,” studio art junior Stephanie Luscombe said.
Students must decide whether the money they are paying for the class is worth paying a little attention. So as your professor continues his monologue, which will win your attention: a rock or the photos of your friend’s boyfriend’s cousin cliff-diving off the coast of Mexico?