The laptop computer or smart device such as the phone or the Apple iPad has become standard equipment in the college classroom. There are plenty of individuals who see this as a necessary partnership between education and a technologically-oriented world. However, there is the also the challenges of technology. Laptops can be a distraction and while they can be a great tool, they can also be a conduit for students not paying attention. As with anything else in the classroom setting, it is up to the instructor to decide how they want to manage their educational environment. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on how to manage laptop use in the college classroom.
Notes and research
The laptop or other smart device can be a great way to take quick notes without the hassle of writing everything down by hand. Students can organize their thoughts in different files and have the ability to search for specific information when they go back and study at a later point. In addition, an Internet-connected laptop can be a great device for doing instant research. Granted, this is an opportunity for the instructor to teach students about scholastic practices. In other words, “research” does not mean simply going to Wikipedia and grabbing the first piece of data.
Surfing for “other” things
Of course, the laptop can also be a device that is used for purposes other than educational pursuits. Students may use their laptop to check their email, update their Facebook profile, watch videos, shop, and engage in general web surfing. This is where classroom management comes into play. The instructor can let the students do what they want, or they can reprimand students individually. In addition, the instructor can ask the students at various points in the class to please close their laptops and pay particular attention to the material.
The myth of multitasking
What also needs to be addressed in a classroom setting is the issue of multitasking. Unfortunately, students believe that they can multitask at a high level. While humans can handle more than one task at a time in certain situations, it may be difficult to surf the Internet and pay full attention to the information being presented by the instructor. Students believe that they can do this, but unfortunately their attention is divided and they can easily miss a lot of material that is being taught.
Classroom expectations and student responsibility
Ultimately this issue will be determined by the expectations of the instructor. As mentioned, college instructors can lay out expectations for their students and enforce rules in the classroom. If the instructor wants to restrict laptop usage to educational purposes, that is their prerogative. At the same time, this is college and the students are increasingly responsible for their education. Even if the laptops are put away, the student can still choose to stare off into space, skip note taking, and fail to pay attention. Overall, laptops can be a asset but they can also be a distraction. Either way, laptops will not guarantee that learning will occur.