As we gear up for the start of the semester (we don’t start until next week), I am once again considering whether to allow laptops in class. My recent musings on this were sparked by Anne Curzan’s post in the Chronicle of Higher Education, where she explained why (and how) she asks students not to use laptops in class. This, and the subsequent twitter discussion on this piece, has me wondering what others do.
I initially allowed laptops, but was convinced by talking with students who worked in my lab that it was really distracting to neighboring students, so started banning them in my large lecture course. The Curzan piece links to this study that supported the anecdotal reports of my students. To me, this is probably the most compelling reason to not allow laptops in class.
I know some faculty who allowed students to use laptops, but only if they sat in the back row of the lecture hall so they couldn’t distract other students. (You could also make the argument that they have to sit in the front of the room, to encourage them to stay focused on lecture material.) And I know some professors who allow them, but will close the laptop if they see the student using it for non-lecture-related tasks in class, but that requires a lot of in-class policing. When I got here to Michigan, I co-taught Intro Bio, and allowed laptops, since that is what my coinstructor did. But I’m reconsidering it for this semester. In my smaller course, I encouraged use of laptops so students could collaborate via Google documents. Digital distractions were definitely a downside of that approach. This semester, when I’ll be teaching Intro Bio again (but this time with a different coinstructor), we’re planning on strongly discouraging use of laptops. This is in part a logistic issue — the students will get portions of slides that they have to heavily annotate, which is much better done by hand. But it is also to reduce distractions for students. We don’t intend to make it a full ban, though; instead, students who want to use laptops will have to sit in the balcony area of the lecture hall, where they can’t distract other students.
What do you do? Do you allow laptops? Has your opinion on laptop use changed? And, if you ban laptops (or strongly discourage their use), how have students reacted?