My Laptop Is My Notebook… Why Can’t I Use It in Class?


Published: October 2, 2008

It’s the first day of school again! You’ve bonded with your new roommates, made the perfect schedule and somehow managed to spend all of your money before buying school supplies. That’s okay, though, you don’t need five packs of pens and seven notebook/folder sets—all you really need for class is your single precious laptop. It’s not until you scan through your professor’s syllabus that you see that fatal memo: “No laptops in class!”

It is no mystery that students already have the advanced typing skills that are required for most secretarial and data entry jobs thanks to typing classes, e-mail and running home to get on AIM since middle school. For students like myself, those typing skills combined with the wonderful technology of the laptop have made the note-taking process faster, more organized and more thorough. As a student, I feel much more confident knowing that my notes accurately trace the class discussion and even include verbatim quotes from the professor. Nothing is left out or sloppily jotted down by a method that wastes paper and cannot keep up with my listening speed anyway. Programs like Microsoft Word Notebook, Evernote and OneNote offer advanced ways of organizing notes, including automatic bullets and numbering, copy and paste options and the classic bolding and italicizing options. All of these provide a better alternative to incomplete and disorganized hand-written notes.

I also understand, however, that in addition to all the benefits laptops offer in the classroom, there is the potential for distraction. According to a survey conducted by David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University, about 95 percent of students admitted to using laptops in class for reasons other than note-taking. This is a statistic that cannot be ignored, especially in a university with wireless Internet. We’ve all seen (or been) those students who occasionally look up from our laptop screens to shoot a reaffirming smile and nod to the professor and her notes on the board before returning to our “five notifications!” on Facebook.

In such instances, however, the individual that chooses to surf the Web knows and accepts the fact that they are missing out on the valuable information that is circulating within the classroom. Whether or not an individual decides to contribute to a class discussion is based on more than just his or her means of note-taking. With or without laptops in a classroom, there have always been students who felt disinclined to participate or even pay attention in class. Distractions from class discussion have existed long before the invention of the laptop, ranging from doodling to note passing and, in modern times, text messaging. While I agree that the students who choose to distract themselves and possibly others during class should be penalized, their choices should not interfere with the giving the option to other laptop users to have an enhanced note-taking experience. As far as the non-laptop users who may be innocently distracted by their Web-surfing peers, they can notice whom to avoid sitting beside early on in a semester and always have the power to speak to that student or teacher about the issue.

Just as other advances have required new regulations to be made, the laptop must be recognized and embraced as a valuable learning tool that teachers can support in a way that promotes a focused learning environment. In this age of information, teachers can and should take advantage of all of the opportunities that come along with students having access to the Internet in class. I have been in numerous class discussions in which the professor references material accessible on the Internet that might bring in new insight. In one instance, a professor actually asked if anyone would look the reference up and share it with the rest of the class, advancing the discussion to a new level. With just a bit more focus and respect for our teachers and our peers, students can experience efficiency and thoroughness in learning and maintaining material while giving professors creative ways to take advantage of the endless amounts of information attainable from every student’s desk.