more on laptops
So thanks to all of you who commented on my last post about the potential laptop ban that I’m thinking about imposing in my two classes this fall.
I’ve got more to say on the subject.
So first, let me admit that I spent time today reading through Margaret Soltan‘s various posts in which she vigorously argues for laptop bans. So I haven’t exactly done the most unbiased extra reading. That said, through her I found a post Timothy Burke wrote a few years back in which a commenter made the point that laptop bans could be humiliating, i.e. someone confirming that my biggest concern could be an issue. So I take that seriously.
The more I thought about it and the more I thought through the comments many of you made, the more determined I got to impose a laptop ban. And here’s why:
1. I think we can say that students are adults (which is something I wholeheartedly believe, actually, which is why the various inspection and “lids down” schemes feel uncomfortable to me), but I still believe professors have the right, indeed responsibility, to create the kind of classroom environment they believe works best for the students in their class. My job is not to cater to every student’s whim just ’cause: it’s to teach them. (And note: I’m not making an argument for university-wide laptop bans, but each professor knows the kind of classroom environment they’re aiming for.) I’m not banning laptops because I believe I can force everybody to pay attention in class. But there are ways of not paying attention that hurt the student alone and there are ways of not paying attention that are rude to everybody else. And surfing the internet, watching porn, watching music videos, checking your stocks, checking your bank account, and the potential noise and flashing lights inherent to those activities are rude.
2. Tanya points out that it can be good to teach students the appropriate methods of technology use and that technology can be an incredible aid to learning. I agree fully. But I think technology in and of itself is not inherently an aid to learning. Students will only learn more with technology if I, as the professor, incorporate technology or technological methods into my classroom. Not saying I won’t in future, but in the two courses I’m preparing for this upcoming semester, there’s no technology component that requires students to have their laptops. They’d simply be typing notes and getting distracted. Also, it’s just as important for students to learn that there are times when using technology isn’t appropriate.
3. A lot of the stuff I read today, stuff that was both pro- and anti-laptops in the classroom, talked about students looking things up and correcting their professors in class. Well, I’ve got several problems here. First, the time they’re looking things up is time they’re missing the next point I’m making or the next great comment from a colleague. Second, what is the quality of the sources they’re looking up in so short a time? I’ve got nothing against Wikipedia, I use it all the time, but when you’re deploying the facts from it in a history course, it has to be verified with other sources. There’s not time for that kind of research in the 30 seconds they’re trying to trip me up. (Now I know not all students are trying to trip up their professors, but as a woman of color, I don’t want to open that door.) On a related point, I’ve got no problems with students asking questions about what I’m saying or checking what I’m saying, but that needs to be an intentional process of research that they do on their own time and then mention the next class period, or that they get the class to engage in by raising a question. And most importantly, if students spend their time fact-checking, they’re missing the point: that history at the college level is not about a collection of facts. It’s about analysis and critical thinking about change over time based upon a foundation of information. Facts are relatively easily verified outside class; learning to think critically is not.
So for these reasons, I’m going to impose a ban, in all likelihood. The question of disability accommodation is still a big one, and if it came down to it, I might revise my policy over it. But I’m hoping that if there is a student who needs accommodation, an assigned notetaker would do the job. (That I have had experience, as has Dr. Virago, and I found that that could be handled very discreetly.)
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