Post Mortem 1

May is when I reflect on the just-completed academic year.  Today’s topic is frustration caused by students’ distracting classroom use of laptops, phones, and other gadgets.  As described in a Globe story titled “Tangled in an Endless Web of Distractions,” it is not an isolated problem  My “gadget ghetto” solution did not work because I did not follow through on monitoring usage.  Wandering behind gadget users while teaching does not fit my classroom traffic pattern.  I cannot give up.  I  need another fix.  I don’t want to ban laptops because it would punish students who use them appropriately and effectively.  I doubt I could convince the school to mount giant mirrors along the back and side classroom walls, and if they did I’d  have to see myself teach.  One friend–a former student who works for Google–says I should ban them.  Period.  Google, the world’s information organizer and quintessential Internet company, has no-laptop meetings.  “Let them take notes the old-fashioned way.  On paper.”  One student said I should shame students by telling them mid-class to stop texting and put their phones away.  I’ve done that a few times, but it doesn’t capture students peering at laptops who could be taking verbatim notes or trading stocks.  (I could use it, though, on students looking at their screens and laughing while I’m discussing agency law.)  Another said I should cold-call people using laptops to see if they are paying attention.  I’ve done that, but clearly not often enough to instill universal fear of public embarrassment.

That might work.  One more thing to add to the FAQs.

6 thoughts on “Post Mortem 1”

  1. Only a handful of professors totally ban laptops in my law school, but several do a temporary ban. Essentially, they ban laptops for anywhere from 2-4 weeks, and then those that still want to use laptops must sit in the back row (so as not to be distracting to the non laptop users). If you go this route, consider taking a survey at the end of each semester to see what the students think about it, etc. Laptop banning in law school is a major area of debate, and has produced several research studies and law review articles.

  2. Laptop usage in class is tricky. It would be unfair to ban laptop usage in class because some people are more efficient in typing out notes than writing & some people learn better this way. The down side is that it is difficult to know whether one is actually taking notes or doing something else entirely. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done that would really effect people in using their laptops appropriately in class. Its a matter of personal choice whether a student brings a laptop to class or not. A suggestion that I can think of is reducing participation grade for students who are obviously distracted by their laptops. For example, if you are giving a lecture on contract law and a student is staring at their computer screen smirking, it is quite obvious they may be doing something else. Another suggestion is to have students turn off the internet access for the duration of the class (like in exams), giving students a fair chance to take notes on a laptop without the distraction.

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