Saturday, March 7, 2009

Laptop Initiative

UMSU is a laptop university, meaning that all students receive a laptop, the costs of which are included in their full-time tuition. In my courses, as with so many other faculty, these devices have created some wonderful opportunities for creative lesson plans but they also tend to distract students as much as aid them. Recently I sat in on a colleague who gave a lecture to her survey course. Of the approximately 35 students using computers in class that day, only 4-5 clearly were taking notes. The rest surfed Facebook pages, played games, IM-ed each other, and at least one student visited some inappropriate sites. My colleague naturally was unaware of the scope of the problem though she had suspicions. Although I too doubt the diligent use of computers for note-taking in my courses, I have not developed a clear laptop policy because I know how useful they can be for many students. The question that I have not been unable to resolve is: How can I provide students who have different ways of learning the opportunities to access the best learning strategies for them if I deny them use of an important tool?

Over on The Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh, who teaches at UCLA Law School, has posted the results of an experiment last fall when he banned the use of laptops in his Criminal Law course. At the end of the course he conducted a survey to gauge student responses to the policy. Although students felt the policy negatively affected their ability to take notes, they largely seem to feel it helped them concentrate better in class. On his post, Volokh has also provided a memo he wrote to his colleagues that breaks down the data in more detail and has student responses. It is an interesting read if you have the time. What this means for my courses, I still don't know.

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