May
31st 2012
Class notes

Posted under: students, technoskepticism, unhappy endings

A correspondent writes:

So I’m attending a class on Hume’s Treatise this term and often sit diagonally behind a young man who uses his laptop to “take notes.”  Last week he was reviewing lectures and taking a quiz *for an online class* while he was in the live action philosophy class. 

Ugh.

Now that’s what I would call efficient!  Not efficient for learning, but rather an efficient way to spend your tuition money.  Who wants to bet that the student in question will also expect the proffie in the F2F class to post hir lecture notes online too, so that they can be reviewed in still yet another class?  (P.S.  This is why I never post lecture notes online or on Blackboard, and don’t share them at all unless a student has a documented medical problem preventing them from attending class or a documented learning disability.)

I have never banned laptops in my classes, mostly because it’s only one or two students who want to use them, and what do I care if they want to play around with Facebook or other timewasters, so long as they don’t audibly or visibly disturb their classmates?  I recall quite clearly the ability to look busy but not pay attention in class by writing letters to my boyfriend du jour, daydreaming, or making other notes to myself (and to tell the truth, I have done this in meetings at my day job–notes to myself, not to a boyfriend, that is), so the notion that students might use newer technologies to ignore what’s going on in class doesn’t bother me overmuch.  I figure it will happen regardless of whether or not I confiscate their computers and smart phones before class.

What’s your policy, and/or that of your professors or colleagues?

29 Comments »

29 Responses to “Class notes”

  1. Indyanna on 31 May 2012 at 8:57 am #

    I don’t use any “Learning Management System” save for the well-rested and breakfasted student hirself, sitting up straight and wondering what I’m going to do next. [This keeps me out of the faculty angst wars that break out every eighteen months or so when it’s announced that the tech-heads over at the vendor Luv2Learn aren’t supporting version 2.3 anymore, and that the other tech-heads back at the state system bunker in Paxtonia have decided to go with KeepMiPosted, so everyone will have to “migrate” their stuff, whatever their “stuff” is. So “posting” “notes” would be a stretch. I’d have to find them first (I don’t much use notes anymore, except for something to scan when I think I skipped over something). And nobody could read them. As for the distraction of having a few open laptops out in front and wondering what’s really on-screen, no, dealing with that distraction would itself be too distracting.

  2. Janice on 31 May 2012 at 9:26 am #

    I permit all tech but silent. I discourage texting in class as it’s more disruptive than typing (at least to judge by students’ reactions). I post my slides at least the day before class. I still get great attendance and pretty good focus except for a few who would distract themselves anyway. Students who have access to the slides ahead of time often print them out as an outline to the class that we’ll follow from discussion question to key topics.

    I’m changing up my due date policy, though. Starting this fall, work will be due at the START of class. I used to accept it to the end of class but I got tired of a half-dozen or so students, often in-class, working on the assignment while they sat there, intently focused on their screen to the detriment of the discussion going on around them!

  3. koshembos on 31 May 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Students are not soldiers and we are going to war. I am not the class commander. I came to help them get better. I am not the smartest guy in the room; I am the oldest and therefore, I know more. (Secure skin helps with students and arrogant faculty who I like to insult.)

    Freedom is the key including the freedom to screw up. Students can eat, drink, use laptops, use their smartphones (no one tried to listen to music or make a call so far). Lecture notes are always posted to encourage students to listen and participate instead of to be court reporters. Exams are done at home and are posted and solved electronically. There is no paper in my classes. I started that about 1998 and had only two cases of cheating.

    Students are expected not to talk among themselves, smoking is illegal anyway and so far no couple tried to have sex so my stand on that is TBD. Once in a blue moon the class becomes noisy. I lower my voice and say “please.” It works.

    Technology is crucial and I use as much technology as is available. Analysis is mandatory and axiomatic. My task is to equip students with a foundation of knowledge and analytical skills to use the knowledge and expand it. Everything else is a banana peel.

  4. annajcook on 31 May 2012 at 9:40 am #

    I come at this from the perspective of someone who has been an undergrad, graduate student, and teaching assistant in classes — never the presiding faculty member. I know this sort of discussion generates a lot of strong feeling on all sides!

    In thinking “what would I do if I were in the professor’s shoes…” on this issue, two things come to mind:

    1) Key here is the collective responsibility of students’ to respect the other students’ ability to learn in the classroom. Hence, I’m completely behind the policy that says all present tech/activities need to be non-disruptive. Because disruptive gadgets (e.g. loud cell phones, etc.) are going to degrade the quality of the classroom for all, it seems fair to me that classroom etiquette demands device management of this sort.

    2) My overall observation has been that — particularly obstreperous (usually otherwise-problematic) students aside — if you are at the point of banning laptops, etc., in an attempt to get your students to focus on what’s happening in the class, you’ve already lost them. You have no buy-in. So the tech is a red herring — it appears to be the problem, because it’s the material object with a (deceptively simple) solution: outlaw them in the room. But the problem is actually that somehow what is happening in class has failed to capture students’ attention. And that issue isn’t going to go away if they’re resentfully held captive sans familiar devices.

    The only way I think that such a situation would work is if as a class at the beginning of the semester, it was collectively decided that in order to foster a certain kind of un-distracted, un-divided learning experience, technology connected to the outside world would be kept off or left at home. I had a few experiences like this in undergrad, and they were positive — but it was because all of us in that room had chosen to be there, and chosen the terms. That’s very, very different from a faculty person decreeing no tech. It comes without the shame-and-blame game that so often accompanies discussion of students “not paying attention” in the classroom as their elders believe they should.

  5. Susan on 31 May 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Much of this is shaped by local culture. My big beef is with students who get up and walk in and out of class, which seems endemic on my campus. (Seriously? I *never* would have done that!) One of my colleagues tells her students that if she could go to the bathroom before class, they can too. I’ve tried the bans, and they work pretty well, but I do post articles and some students don’t want to print them out, so I’m torn about this.

    I’ve done versions of what annajcook suggests, but usually on top of my own things, so it’s been less effective. But I think that’s where I’ll go. The question is what creates an atmosphere where everyone can learn?

  6. Liz on 31 May 2012 at 10:06 am #

    I’m a grad student, and I remember the firs time I lectured being quite disconcerted to look out across a room full of students *writing down what I said.* Really? If only the knew just how much I don’t know, they’d never trouble to write down my words. Perhaps it’s comforting to think that a quarter of them were actually IM-ing their friends. Just kidding. Kind of.

    I’ve been a TA and a sole instructor often over the last few years, and the profs I’ve worked for have had a variety of policies. The most recent prof shared her class slides (though not full lecture notes) the day before class, and students often printed them and took notes on the print outs or withing powerpoint on the laptops. Judging from the students who came to see me in office hours, they used those printout extensively to study for the mid-term and final. Many practically memorized the side, using the same language they found there to answer exam questions. I’m not sure learning to reproduce the lecture slides verbatim is effective learning, but in the context of essay questions it was easy to see which students were able to perform analysis and which students were just doing a knowledge dump.

    When I taught myself, I had did not have an in-class tech policy, but it was a tiny class, so anonymous slacking wasn’t possible.

  7. Indyanna on 31 May 2012 at 10:33 am #

    @Susan. The thing with students just walking out of (and sometimes back into), the class totally unnerved me in the early years, and is still infuriating. My syllabi proscribe it as an act of disrespect to the entire class, not specifically to me. As with crime statistics, you can’t prove how many incidents you may have prevented with that kind of language. I have one classroom with an entry door at the front and one much farther back, and escapees predictably use the one at the back. Since they then have to walk within my sight-line but not that of their fellow students as they exit through the hallway, I’ve taken to calling out (to the class) loud “audibles,” supposedly changing an exam date, or the structure of an assignment, making it clear to the class that this is not to be taken literally. The deserters almost invariably hear at least part of the message change, which leaves them with the bad alternatives of slinking back in or else contacting friends in the class (if they have any) to find out what the heck it was they half-heard. Who knows if it works, or even what it would mean to say it “works,” but the alternative policy of loudly confronting the provocateur almost invariably produces a psychic or emotional disequilibrium in the class session that can be hard to work through. I also make it very clear to students at the start of the course that if they have a genuine and legitimate conflict, and deal with me ahead of time, arrangements can be made for them to depart discretely. It’s the ones who come and then surmise that the graded exam is *not* going to be given back that day, I think, who account for most of the disruptive departures.

  8. Rachel on 31 May 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    I’m very tempted to ban, or at least limit, laptop use in discussion sections as even when they’re being used just to take notes they tend to get in the way the flow of discussion far more note pads do.

    As far as lectures go, I agree with annajcook that students are far more likely to be spending serious amounts of time online during lecture if the lectures seem dull, repetitive, badly organised etc. However, I do think the technology makes a difference. It is much, much easier and more tempting for even conscientious students in engaging & productive lectures to decide to “just” check their email “quickly.” It can even feel like being more productive, but of course it makes the student less engaged in the material. I don’t think the answer is banning laptops, but keeping focused when at a computer is more difficult than keeping focused when the internet’s not so readily accessible.

    Historiann, most profs I know who post lecture notes / give out handouts of lecture outlines design them explicitly to not be of much use if you haven’t heard the lecture. They put down maybe key dates, names and figures (that otherwise students will be desperately, and perhaps inaccurately, trying to copy down) and a rough outline of “this is what we’re going to talk about” to help the students who are / were there to organize their notes.

  9. Perpetua on 31 May 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    My objection to laptops in my classes (which I limit, but do not ban) has nothing whatever to do with the student surfing the internet. While my mind boggles that a student would bother attending class only to ignore it, I think it’s each student’s choice. It’s hir education. However, students who surf the net in class actually create a fairly substantial distraction for all the people around them, whose eyes are caught by the graphics and screen changes they are subjected to by their rude classmate. (I’m also annoyed and distracted by the giggling or whatever they occasionally break into reading each other’s oh-so-witty tweets.)

  10. Matt_L on 31 May 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Hey Historiann and Co.

    Just following up on comments from Susan, annajcook, and others it seems like context matters. I would also add that you want to be explicit about your learning objectives for the students in each class. That shapes my electronics and laptop policies as well as the assignments and readings.

    In lower division surveys, like Western Civ, I ban laptops. I have small sections of around 30 students that are designed to be discussion driven. Plus these classes tend to be 90% Freshmen, especially in the fall semester. A large number of our students are the first in their family to go to college, so they need to be clued in on etiquette, study skills, and how to navigate the bureaucracy. They need to be mentally as well as physically present.

    (An aside: From what I understand, there are three things that help student retention in the first year: The student has a faculty member that they know and can talk to; that they make friends with someone in a class or in the dorms; that they are involved in some activity or group on campus. These things are hard to do if your freshman is busy checking facebook to see what their friends from high school are doing.)

    For upper level classes I have a completely hands off policy. They can bring in their laptops and sometimes encourage it. I use a lot of primary sources that are available on-line, so its great when they have the laptop to read along with the text. I’ve also experimented with collaborative note taking using google docs. I think that these bits of tech have been really useful and helped me to meet my goals for these classes.

    Sometimes I post my lecture notes on-line and sometimes I don’t. It depends on the class and the lecture. If I do post my notes, I do so after class. I used to worry about students not coming to class, but I decided that was not worth worrying about. The students who attend class do much better than the students don’t. So I don’t have an attendance requirement, although I have to report it for add/drop, financial aid and select students who are being tracked for academic probation, etc.

    Thanks for an interesting post and discussion thread!

  11. Dr. Crazy on 31 May 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    I used to have a hefty tome of policies, which over the past couple of years have reduced to about three:

    1) You can’t participate if you’re not in class, and participation is a big part of your grade. Don’t miss more than one week’s worth of class or it will hurt your participation grade.

    2) Don’t be disruptive. If you are disruptive in any way (with technology, talking to a friend, snoring – I don’t care) I will call you out on it immediately, in front of the whole class, and I will stop class until the behavior stops. If it happens again, I’ll ask you to leave without bothering to give you a chance to stop it. And I’ll charge you with an absence.

    3) Work submitted after the deadline will lose one full letter grade (from A to B) for each calendar day that it is late. I don’t give extensions, and you pretty much have to be in the hospital to expect any flexibility from me.

    Like you, I remember not paying attention in all sorts of ways as a student. I especially enjoyed doing the crossword in the campus newspaper every day during my gen ed science class “Seven Ideas That Shook the Universe.” As you might suspect, the only thing I remember about that class is the course name and the joy of doing the crossword puzzle. And only with much cramming at the end, I earned a C.

    But here’s the thing: I was totally ok with that C, and showing up to class and half-listening to the lectures allowed me to get that C. Some of our students truly are ok with the grade they will get if they show up to class and see what accidentally sinks in. Not every class is a top priority for every student. And I’m ok with that, and I’m ok with that sort of student. It’s their education, after all – not mine.

  12. Tanya Roth on 31 May 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    The high school I teach at is a 1:1 tablet PC environment. And we don’t block any sites. So today, while giving an in-class essay, I monitored them on DyKnow to make sure they didn’t do anything they weren’t supposed to (although we also have Electronic BlueBook for big exams to get rid of the option/temptation of doing anything else while you test).

    It definitely makes for an interesting environment, but I love the benefits of it.

    I’m teaching ethics this summer, though, and we won’t use the tablets unless they’re doing a writing assignment in class. We just won’t need it for discussion, and they really won’t need to take notes.

    I know there are kids goofing off on facebook occasionally. Part of it is their problem, although they ARE high schoolers and I do need to give them a little more hands-on guidance with this stuff than the hands-off approach I took with undergrads. But really, I love how we embrace the technology to support our teaching goals overall.

  13. Ruth on 31 May 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    I have on my syllabus that any computer use in class must not be distracting to other students. If a student isn’t paying attention, that’s hir problem; if ze is keeping others from paying attention, that’s my problem. I encourage them to let me know (after class) if someone is using a laptop in a way that distracts them, i.e. playing games, watching a film or something.

    But I would not ban laptops. In some classes I use a system called ChimeIn, like clickers except with free text, that students can do from a phone or laptop, and in others, I am happy to have students Google in class. If there’s a factual point that comes up, this can be useful, and can also provide a teachable moment as to what on-line material is reliable. I show a slide of a manuscript produced in Bukhara; I know roughly where that is, and can tell you what dynasty ruled it in the 16th century, but I didn’t know offhand what country it is in now. (Uzbekistan, in case you were wondering.)

  14. jack on 31 May 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    At least it wasn’t porn.

  15. thefrogprincess on 31 May 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    I had a series of posts about this at the beginning of last semester as I was thinking about my policies. I ban laptops and announce this at the beginning of the semester. However the language I use on the syllabus about this puts an emphasis on the kind of classroom I want to create and the kind of work I want them doing in class (including hoping that they wean themselves from trying to do dictation-like notes). As bans go, I think my language is pretty warm and inviting, rather than accusatory.

    I haven’t had a problem with this policy, although this past semester I had a handful of students who read their books online and then of course required the relevant device in class. I didn’t crack down on that as hard as I should have, and so inevitably I let it slide. That said, they did feel obligated to ask if they could use the tech, which showed some level of respect for my policies.

    What I have found is that I’m not personally distracted by their using laptops. (The getting up in the middle of class is much worse.) But I emphasize active class discussion, which I think can be hampered by students lurking behind computer screens, and I also think this particular generation of students really need to practice unplugging for a certain period of time (part of my syllabus ban language). Moreover, they need to learn that technology isn’t appropriate in every context.

    Even more importantly, I worry that much of the rhetoric around allowing laptops—along the lines of “if you aren’t more interesting than the internet, you’re doing something wrong”—falls into education as entertainment. I do my absolute best to make class interesting, and to create activities and discussion topics that change the pace of class. I frequently have students read primary sources aloud or write things on the board or break into debates. But sometimes we just have to get through the grind of lectures (which I try never to spend an entire class doing) or we’re covering material that isn’t innately interesting, and students shouldn’t confuse my classes for a music concert. I’m just not going to be as entertaining as Facebook or gchatting with one’s significant other, but that’s how life is.

    Part of this is ironically based on the fact that I am so young, probably one of your youngest PhD-holding commenters (I’m still under 30). And it seems as though the dividing line between students taking notes primarily by hand and using computers is about two years after I graduated. So I’m not at all convinced by the idea that there is any qualitative or intellectual difference/advantage created by laptops (at least in my history classes).

    The alternative to the laptop ban also seemed to be various levels of oversight—”if you’re doing other work on your laptop, I reserve the right to restrict your use in future” or designated laptop zones in the classroom or times when laptop use is allowed or not. All of those felt too intrusive to me, as though they violated student privacy and treated students like children. They also called attention to the situation, whereas I prefer to make an announcement at the beginning of the semester and not discuss it again.

    Sorry for the longwinded post, but I seem to be the only “banner” commenting. And as for posted lectures notes: I don’t do those either.

  16. truffula on 31 May 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    Matt_L: A large number of our students are the first in their family to go to college, so they need to be clued in on etiquette, study skills, and how to navigate the bureaucracy. They need to be mentally as well as physically present.

    This is an important point. I am teaching first year students for the first time in my life this year and have learned a lot about my “freedom to screw up” philosophy. It is easy to see that first year students don’t know a lot about learning. They still need to learn about listening, reading, and note taking. In particular about note taking–and more importantly note reviewing, with follow-up–as a tool for learning. They need to learn how to take notes. They need to learn how to read a paper (more than once) and how to listen to a lecture that lasts more than 10 minutes. The majority of students at my public university arrive with little training in how to be a scholar. There is nothing surprising in that but to the extent that what we are after is a liberal education and not vocational training, in matters that they pick it up.

    That said, what has been most useful to me this year of teaching first years, is not so much what I have learned about how “young” those students are in the context of scholarly skills. Instead, my big lesson will be what working with new students has caused me to realize about the juniors and seniors I usually teach: they are pretty young too. I am starting to think that a “do as you see fit, it makes no difference to me” attitude is elitist and betrays whatever trust students have placed in me as a teacher.

  17. Western Dave on 31 May 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    Research shows (oh how I hate that phrase when it comes out of the educrats mouths) that students retain information better if they write it down rather than type it (although nobody knows why and it is a tendency not a rule). I teach in a 1:1 laptop HS environment. I try to get students to use both their laptops and conventional notes so they can figure out which works best for them. I also encourage them to use different programs for notes until they figure out the one that works best for them (SMART ideas? SMART notebook? word? each has their advantages). Tests and quizzes are still on paper for most kids (unless they have a learning difference that suggests laptop is an appropriate accommodation).

    @the frog princess it’s not if you’re more entertaining than the internet that determines whether or not students surf (or cut class) it’s “does the class do things I can’t get elsewhere in ways that matter to my grade.” You can be the most boring lecturer in the world, but if you make it clear on day 1 that the exam is based on the lecture and only the lecture, they’ll pay attention. Of course, they won’t do any assigned reading in that scenario.

  18. thefrogprincess on 31 May 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    @Western Dave, my point was different. I’m less worried about the students, who haven’t been a problem yet. (Weirdly, I’m not especially worried about distraction in general…if students want to daydream, that’s their choice. It’s a particular type of distraction that I’m not having.) I was focusing on faculty rhetoric around laptop bans: I think we do ourselves and our students no favors if we get too tied to the models of students-as-consumers and education-as-entertainment. There’s value in insisting to ourselves (and our students) that our job isn’t to be fun and entertaining so much as it is to facilitate learning. I think most professors would agree with that, but there’s a strain of the anti-laptop ban crowd that focuses too much on whether our classes are more fun than the internet.

  19. Nikki on 01 Jun 2012 at 5:05 am #

    I have rules much like Dr. Crazy that I enforce most rigorously in my freshman classes, for the reasons cited above. Texting, in particular, drives me crazy, and I tell the students at the beginning of the semester that I had better not even see their cell phones in class. (as an aside–they have the ability to text with their phones in their pockets. I also tell them it is super-creepy for me to watch them fiddle with and then smile at their “pockets” while I lecture).

    They sometimes get me however. This semester I had them working in groups to discuss “The Communist Manifesto,” a copy of which I had posted on line. I saw several students with their cell phones out and went charging over to scold them* and they had downloaded the reading to their phones and were discussing it. Oooops.

    *As another aside–philosophically I am opposed to attendance policies, policing the classroom for cellphone use, etc. They are adults. But oddly, my teaching evals radically improved when I took a hard-line on these behaviors. My classes are capped at 25, so it is much easier for me to see what is going on and also, I think, for the one or two students who are texting/sleeping/ face booking to really disrupt the class.

  20. Matt_L on 01 Jun 2012 at 5:08 am #

    I like what the frogprincess has said about the problem of education as entertainment, or “why isn’t your class more interesting than the internet?”

    Lets be honest, there are parts of learning that are exciting, like the first week in the archives and getting new boxes of stuff you’ve never seen before. There are other parts that are, well, work, like revising that manuscript for the fourth time, or fixing citations. Class is going to be similar. I remember studying German and realizing that success in the class relied on a lot of fumbling through pair dialogues in class and memorizing flash cards full of vocab on the bus. Pretty boring stuff, but I did it and still have a decent command of the language.

    The teacher’s job is to help students master the material. Some of that will be fun and exciting, while some of it is a grind. Sorry to say, but this work requires a certain ‘right mindfulness’ that can only be cultivated by unplugging for a little bit.

  21. Perpetua on 01 Jun 2012 at 6:14 am #

    I just wanted to add that one of the reasons why I’ve never outright banned laptops is because I used to get many official notes from the learning center (or whatever it’s called at various universities) for students who required note-takers or to take notes on laptops for various disabilities. For note takers, having a laptop is much easier. In any event, I felt reluctant about banning something for which there is occasionally a legitimate need. Now that I’m at a different university, I almost never get these kinds of notes – I think it’s the difference between a university that draws from a non-traditional, blue collar, rural student pool and one from a middle class/ upper middle class suburban one.

  22. polisciprof on 01 Jun 2012 at 6:56 am #

    @Indyanna. Thanks for your response about “Learning Management System.” My husband and I are both employees of a state franchise location east of you. It made our day.

    @Jack. Last year a student who I have had in several classes reported that the guys in front of her were watching porn on their laptops during lecture. I asked, “Does that bother you?” She replied, “Not really. I just wanted to let you know.” I said, “Well, if it does, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll just let them hang themselves on the next exam.” They did.

    I also use the “disrespecting the class” line in discussing behavior with students who have the volume up on the ear buds, are habitually tardy, etc. That seems to work.

  23. Leslie on 01 Jun 2012 at 7:06 am #

    I teach tutorials (in music composition) and small seminars. We have a very small program, so I know most of the students very well. I don’t ban laptops and my students are as a whole very courteous about phone use (in general, if a phone goes off, I get a quick apology as it is shut down completely).

    In the tutorials, we talk often about making technology, as a tool, work most effectively. There are times when the use of a notation program or other software creates an unnecessary bar to the free-flowing of ideas. At other times, it’s an excellent way of quickly trying out complex ideas.

    As you can see, I’m in a much different teaching environment than many of you–discussions like this (or when I talk to a colleague who teaches a 500 student survey) make me realize just how specialized it is.

  24. Historiann on 01 Jun 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Great discussion, friends. It sounds like most of us want to permit students to use technology as they see fit, while also trying to find ways to teach them how to *do college,* as well as learn something about our disciplines in our classes.

    I liked this comment from Nikki: “As another aside–philosophically I am opposed to attendance policies, policing the classroom for cellphone use, etc. They are adults. But oddly, my teaching evals radically improved when I took a hard-line on these behaviors. My classes are capped at 25, so it is much easier for me to see what is going on and also, I think, for the one or two students who are texting/sleeping/ face booking to really disrupt the class.”

    I have noticed the same thing, and would like to suggest that it makes sense. Most students want to do the right thing most of the time, and they get irritated if they believe that someone in class is getting away with something. I’ve also noticed that students appreciate it when the disruptors/slackers are called out on their behavior. I think it all goes back to the idea that we get the students we deserve, for the most part. If you have high standards, rational class rules and grading systems, and you enforce them fairly, you’ll get the students who see the value in what you do.

    (IOW, I have a few times made the mistake of NOT getting up in students’ grills, and those classes ended up getting even more annoying over time. It’s like going easy on them on the first assignment: if you don’t kick their asses then, they have little incentive for improvement.)

  25. Wini on 01 Jun 2012 at 10:20 am #

    The only truly negative experience I have had with laptops was in my first graduate seminar. My only poilcy for my larger classes is “don’t distract.” In that grad class and all of my small classes, we decide together as a class what the basic policy will be. The undergraduates always want little laptop presence, but the graduate students looked at my like an alien when I started this same conversation. And the it turned into a major problem.

    I’ve decided to ban them in my next graduate seminar, as another experiment, but I will allow ereaders for PDFs, since I know at least 25% of the enrolled students have them. (Not for books because you can’t keep track of pages.)

    However, I came to a similar conclusion to some of the commentators above. Part of the problem was that the masters students were still learning how to do graduate work and graduate seminars. Our PhD students knew what to do, and would only flip open their screens to reference readings. I imagine their experiences as TAs also helped. But, sitting still to read hundreds of pages and the sitting still to think through the ideas for three hours is also a learned skill. Our minds do wander in seminar, and they need tomwrestle them back, not give in to facebook. (Actually i think the biggest problem was someone doing coursework for another class.) I’m pretty familiar with the technology out there, and using a good PDF reading program on a screen is hard, it is just not the same. They will be required to bring readings to class, and required to take notes by hand. We’ll see.

  26. truffula on 01 Jun 2012 at 10:58 am #

    I am less tolerant of student misuse of devices when they are listening to their peers present material than when they are listening to me. It’s a respect issue, of course.

    I once noticed a couple sitting close together and watching something on a laptop while another student was giving a presentation so I got up, walked over, and sat down next to the couple. The student who owned the computer slammed down the lid and the other one jumped up and left the room. I have no idea what they were watching.

  27. thefrogprincess on 01 Jun 2012 at 11:14 am #

    I’m with truffula: when I had my seminar students do research presentations, I tightened the reins: I told them not to eat (which I usually allow), and I strongly reiterated the “come to class on time” and “don’t leave in the middle of a presentation” spiel. There were a few issues, but I wanted to make clear that, although I’m personally not bothered by eating, it can be seen as distracting to others, especially those who don’t usually present.

  28. Historiann on 01 Jun 2012 at 11:16 am #

    EEEwww. And I’m sure you didn’t want to know!

    Good point about distractions during lecture/proffie time versus peer presentations and interactions. I agree entirely.

  29. Amy on 07 Jun 2012 at 11:20 am #

    I can’t write by hand for long for medical reasons, so I have to use a laptop. In class, I only use it to take notes and people who use it for other reasons (texting, surfing the net, etc.) distract those of us who are there to learn.

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