Sunday, January 02, 2011

My Laptop Philosophy in the Classroom. Taken from a Syllabus at Denver Seminary

No laptops are allowed in the classroom. While many students will use them responsibly, sadly my experience shows that many will not use them wisely, and will, instead, use them to surf the Internet—checking emails, etc., even watching films. For this reason, I am banning them from the classroom. The classroom needs to be zone for knowledge and inspiration. Knowledge needs students and students need knowledge. We need to breath ideas together without the distraction of alien mediation (cell phones, laptops, and so on). Therefore, please print out the class notes for the day (given through the web page by email) and be ready to take notes and discuss the material face-to-face, voice-to-voice, soul-to-soul. Many students disappear behind the screens. Please give me—better, offer up before God—the class time each week for discussion, debate, and dialogue.


Sirfab said...

Dear Professor,

though I am not a student of yours, I think you should reconsider your decision to ban laptops from your classrooms.

Surely, the job of a teacher is to foster an environment in which students can maximize their learning. However, as you yourself wrote, many students will use laptops responsibly. Why penalize students who take learning seriously to correct the behavior of those who do not? In my experience as a student, no teacher could have forced me to pay attention, take notes, or interact with the class if I chose not to. I could gaze out of the window, or read a newspaper under my desk, or study some other subject unrelated to the class I was attending.

The proper way to deal with distractions in the classroom is to structure tests so that they reward those who paid attention and to penalize those who did not.

And, based again on personal observation, those who are not smart or intereseted enough to pay attention, will pay a price sooner or later, sometimes simply by having to study again something that they had ample opportunity to learn at the proper time.

What do you think?

cuwac1 said...

If I were your student, I would find this blanket ban very frustrating.

I do agree that students can use laptops irresponsibly or ineffectively. The same can be said concerning everything from doodling pencils and overused highlighters to bad seating arrangement choices (e.g., sitting near the most distracting member of the opposite sex). I would prefer that professors encourage students to find a good system and learning style for a given class, rather than have one imposed (so a requirement to try a few class sessions without a laptop strikes me as a much more reasonable policy).

You may also be right that laptops constitute an "alien" type of mediation. (I'm assuming that you mean they are more alien than a conventional classroom environment with its desks and chairs, as opposed to an informal peripatetic style, meeting individually with a tutor, etc.) I definitely agree that having a wall of computer screens is an additional psychological barrier to interaction. Having said that, I still think the benefits for many students outweigh the costs.

To speak from personal experience, I used a laptop in the philosophy program at Talbot throughout nearly every class (I assume our program is comparable to yours). As a result, I have accessible, legible, relatively complete notes from most of my classes. They were very useful during my studies, of course, but they have also proven extremely useful for several years. My notes usually include other students' questions and comments, so in many cases I can reproduce much of the class discussion, in addition to any straight lecture material. It's difficult to make hard and fast rules, and I'm sure some students would not see these benefits, but I think the use of a laptop significantly improved my overall educational experience.

jay said...

As a high school teacher, I am perplexed by the many administrators who promote the latest computer-gizmo as the panacea for our educational ills, and even more perplexed by the teachers who are willing to believe it, especially if they are given a laptop as part of the deal. To those students who have true literacy skills, the augmenting power of computers is astounding. To those who do not, they are a profound distraction. As Neil Postman said in Technopoly , "For four hundred years, schoolteachers have been part of the knowledge monopoly created by printing, and they are now witnessing the breakup of that monopoly. It appears as if they can do little to prevent that breakup, but surely there is something perverse about schoolteachers' being enthusiastic about what is happening." What to do? I have a similar policy for my classroom, but I also hang an old iPod up under the classroom clock and give it a whack with a ruler every now and then for good measure.

Matt said...

I love it! I'm in a graduate philosophy program now and I've stopped bringing my computer to school at all. I've found that you are right, even the best of students will be distracted by their computers from time to time. So I've decided on my own to limit the distraction and take notes and write my papers by hand, old-school style. I have an MDiv from seminary and now I'm in a secular program. Many of my classmates in seminary used a laptop. Interestingly, almost no one uses one in the secular graduate program that I'm in. Like you, once I start teaching, I will ban laptops.

David said...

I suppose that the effectiveness of such a ban of laptops would depend on the style of the instructor, is approach to didaction, and his demeanor during class. I can remember classes where I would have benefited greatly from having a laptop available, and suffered little; I can also remember classes where even a minute of not focusing on the teacher would have cost me.

Did you also take into account your teaching style when instituting the ban, Dr. Groothuis?

At minimum, as a student, I recognize the value of the printed notes and outline.