Farewell Facebook, Goodbye Gmail: Some Professors Put a Stop to Laptops in Class

Due to Some Students’ Misuse of Laptops in the Classroom, Other Students May Suffer


Published: October 7, 2010

The scritch-scratch of pens seems to be replacing the click-clack of keyboards in classrooms this semester. Whether by curious coincidence or by secret agreement, a number of professors are not allowing laptops to be used in their classrooms. Although there is no university-wide standard as of yet, there may be a trend.

Enjoy online freedom while you can, because more and more FCLC professors are saying no to laptops in the classroom. (Laura Cunningham/The Observer)

“I’ve noticed that a lot of people say their professors aren’t letting them use a laptop in class this year,” said Matthew Ortiz, FCLC ’12. “It seems to be happening more than last year. One of my professors this year is banning them, but I had a class with her last year and she used to allow them. Personally, I think students should be mature enough to deal with the consequences of not paying attention and professors shouldn’t feel the need to regulate their behavior. ”

Students used to taking notes on their laptops in class will be disappointed, but maybe not as disappointed to be asked to close their laptops as students who are used to checking their Facebooks or emails during lectures. And that seems to be what is motivating certain professors to ban the technology in their classrooms.

Albert Auster, associate professor of Communication and Media Studies, said, “I used to allow them, but the last few semesters I’ve not wanted people to have them in class because they weren’t using them solely for note-taking; they were surfing the Web, checking e-mail and instant messaging. Also, some students complained to me that it was disruptive to them when others weren’t necessarily taking notes. They have a tendency to draw the eye of a student trying to focus.”

Those of us who have used laptops in class probably can’t deny that we have fallen prey to the temptation of checking our inboxes, especially when we no longer hear the professor speaking and start hearing the drone of Charlie Brown’s teacher. However, some students point out that there are beneficial uses of laptops in the classroom that extend beyond note-taking.

“I can understand why professors would not want us to use laptops,” said Piyali Syam, FCLC ’12. “I see people on Facebook all the time during class. But I think having a computer can be a useful tool. It’s easier for me to type fast than to write fast. Also, if I have extensive e-res readings, I’d prefer to not have to print out 50 pages; I’d rather just read them from my computer.”

Not all students use their computers out of boredom, and banning laptops in class may be punishing the many for the sins of the few (or punishing the few for the sins of the many).

One student, Romana Soutus, FCLC ’14, believes that laptops can actually facilitate learning rather than detract from it. She said, “If you don’t know what the teacher is talking about in a discussion you can look it up right there. It gives you the ability to look up concepts in class and make connections.”

Most professors probably would not mind having laptops in the classroom if there was a way to guarantee that students would not become distracted by them.

Sarah Zimmerman, associate professor of English, pinpointed the root of the evil. The laptops themselves are not the problem, as much the fact that it’s almost impossible to tell if a student is taking notes or surfing the Web.

Zimmerman said, “I have allowed them, but it was problematic because we have wireless Internet in the classrooms. I haven’t yet developed ways to have them be used productively in class. I do allow Kindles because students can save money on printing, and it’s easier to tell when someone is using it to go on the Internet.”

Both Zimmerman and Auster said that there was no secret meeting in which professors decided to ban laptops this year. Auster said, “I don’t know of any, I just decided personally. It wasn’t a positive factor in my class.” Zimmerman also said the decision was an individual one.