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Laptops in Class

At the first class of each semester, I raise the issue of laptops in class.  Here’s my rant:

When I go to a meeting, I almost never bring my laptop. I have a light one and I could easily bring it along. But I know that if I do, I will not pay attention. <class laughs> I am terrible that way. Someone will start saying something redundant, boring, or irrelevant, and I’ll take that moment to  look down at my laptop. I’ll check my email. I’ll check Facebook or Twitter. <class laughs> My attention will stray, and when I look up again I will find that the boring/irrelevant moment is long over, and I’ve missed something significant.  I’ve missed part of the point of why I bothered to be there in the first place.

I know some of you genuinely find it helpful to take notes on a computer. I also know that others really do use your computer to look up more information about what we’re talking about. And sometimes those contributions are invaluable to the whole class. I also know that some of you are on Facebook or checking email. You need to ask yourself a question: What do I want to get out of being here in class? Can I better  accomplish that with our without my laptop? For me, there’s no contest–I’ve got to have it closed or I might as well not come. You may be different. Think about why you are here and how best to accomplish your own goals for being here.

There’s just one thing I ask: if you do decide to use a computer in class, please do not use it for anything that might distract your fellow students. In particular, please do not play any real-time games during class. <class laughs> I’ve had multiple complaints on my course evaluation about students playing games during class. Whether you pay attention is your choice, but please don’t distract everyone else.

There’s a short version of this on my syllabus as well. I have been fairly successful in getting rid of folks playing first person shooters in class with this speech.  Whether it’s had any impact on how much attention people pay, I can’t say for sure.  I’m cautiously optimistic that it helps.

How do you handle laptops in class? Are there other issues of misuse or overuse of mobile and social computing that you’ve tried to address with your students? With your peers? With your family?  We are still in the early stages of understanding the choices we all make about best use of these new technologies.  Let’s share strategies!  Leave me a comment–I’d love to hear what people have tried and what seems to work.

  1. January 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    In our Master on Libre Software, it is not mandatory (but almost) to bring your laptop to class. The reason is simple: part of the class is structured to include practical exercises with students. They search for info about FLOSS communities, projects, technologies or any other topic that day, then present their findings to the rest of the class. They create brief presentations to present their ideas. They can write collaborative notes about the class content (they use a git repo to manage this).

    Age might have some influence on this behavior (I’m not sure, and you don’t give info about that on your post). They can check email, or social networks while in class. They can even tweet interesting findings, links or comments, in real-time (not only with laptops, also with Android mobile phones). However, the way they interact with the rest of the class, and the strategy to keep paying attention to important sections is part of what they must learn along the course.

  2. May 26, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Howard Rheingold at Stanford is finishing his book on digital literacy and he’s done exercises with his class on using and not using computers and other digital devices in class. One exercise is limiting the number of devices to one or two but if anyone else begins to use a device, nobody can. It is a question of awareness.

    You might remember me from the Cyberfoo in Boston lo these many years ago. I practice aikido with your aunt Gilda.

  1. January 24, 2011 at 10:54 pm
  2. September 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm
  3. March 23, 2012 at 6:21 am

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