Laptops in the classroom: Are they a good or bad thing?

Are laptops and mobile devices helpful or harmful when used in the classroom?

The Center for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning (CATL) and Teaching & Learning Technologies (TLT) held a discussion luncheon titled “Laptops in the Classroom” on Monday, October 8. Created to facilitate conversations among faculty about the use of laptops and other mobile devices in the classroom, CATL and TLT staff suggested strategies instructors could adopt in the classroom and encouraged feedback.

Katie King, associate director of CATL and moderator of the discussion, said she believes laptops and mobile devices can serve as beneficial supplements to course material if students bring them to class.

“It seems like we’re in this in-between phase,” she said. “We can’t make the assumption people have these technologies.”

Mixed Emotions from Faculty

Elon faculty seem to be in an in-between phase when it comes to incorporating technology in the classroom too; some instructors stated they support laptop use under specified conditions, while others explained they do not allow technology at all.

Vanessa Bravo, assistant professor of communications, said she allows her students who have laptops and cell phones to have a five-minute technology break halfway through her classes. She said she posts few of her PowerPoints on Moodle, too, so her students are forced to pay attention in class.

“Students seem to pay a lot of attention during class because of the pace of the class,” Bravo said. “They need to take notes.”

Amy Allocco, assistant professor of religious studies, said she has banned laptops and mobile devices from her classes because they do not lend themselves well to what she is trying to accomplish with her students. She said she also finds the technology distracting.

“They rob me of the visual cues of engagement,” she said. “When [students’] faces are turned down, I can’t see their puzzled looks or nodding heads. It’s problematic when I don’t see that. I read facial expressions better.”

King said though it is understandable why faculty choose to ban laptops and mobile devices in their classrooms, the act of doing so can cause complications. Students with verified disabilities are legally allowed to use such technology, and they are allowed the right to confidentiality, she said. Because of this, if faculty members were to make exceptions for these students, they are disclosing their status.

Lynn Huber, associate professor of religious studies, said she used to prohibit the use of laptops in her classes but stopped when she realized some disabled students needed them to take notes. To solve this dilemma, Huber said she assigned two or three note takers in her classes. Note takers were required to post their notes to a class blog, and all students could add to the notes by commenting on the blog.

King noted other technology strategies professors could execute in their classrooms, including class-created technology policies in which instructors negotiate technology expectations with students at the beginning of the semester. She suggested using technology for specified activities, such as note taking or online resource consulting. King said instructors could allocate specific locations in the classroom for technology use too, so students without laptops would not be distracted by those using them.

Helpful Resources To Use

Scott Hildebrand, assistant director of TLT, offered a list of online resources instructors could utilize in the classroom. He highlighted join.me, an online tool that allows professors to display their computer desktops onto students’ devices. Hildebrand said join.me could prove useful, if a classroom did not have a projector or if a professor wanted students to better see details on his or her screen. Join.me also allows professors to pass control of their computers to students; this enables students to control the functions of the screen and to share information with others.

Google Apps, with its online word processor, spreadsheet and presentation editor, allows students to create, store and share information instantly and securely. Hildebrand said Google Apps is helpful for group work, as it allows students to communicate in real time. He noted Google Apps allows users to upload preexisting documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and it also permits them to create new material. All documents can be accessed from any computer. If professors wanted to use the tool in their classes, they could ask students to work collaboratively on a presentation via Google Apps, Hildebrand said.

Instructors could also use Moodle Wiki. Because wikis allow users to combine information such as web links and notes, Hildebrand said a Moodle wiki would be a great place for students to post and share their lecture notes. Wikis also promote group collaboration, he said, so students could use a Moodle wiki to complete group work or peer editing. Hildebrand warned, though, unlike Google Docs, wikis do not allow for real-time editing.

Additional workshops pertaining to this topic will be held in the spring. Faculty interested in developing technology policies for their classes can contact CATL; those interested in learning more about technology resources can contact TLT.

Modified image by Flickr user Brett JordanCreative Commons licensed CC-BY 2.0

Sam Parker

Sam Parker

Sam Parker is a Marketing Student Writer Intern with Elon University's Teaching and Learning Technologies.

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 5, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I think having laptops in the class room is a good thing and it should be embraced by the teachers. The teachers need to learn to use the technology to the best of there ability. Students can interact with resources that have been published on line by the teachers. Nice article, it certainly raises some talking points.