Professors ban laptop use in class for a reason

Share on Facebook
Tweet on Twitter

This semester, I have had several professors ban laptops from the classroom. Being a history major who still finds joy in paper and a reporter who still uses a pad of paper during interviews, I wasn’t too concerned about the policy.

But not everyone shared my sentiment. I remember hearing my peers grumbling after class about having to write out their notes, asking, “Why do professors refuse to embrace the tech era?”

The answer is simple: Because they really shouldn’t. Study after study has shown that using laptops in class resulted, on average, in lower grades for not only students using laptops but those surrounding them as well.

In particular, a 2013 study by Faira Sana and others found that using laptops and completing other tasks online (email, Facebook, gaming, etc.) negatively affected students’ grades as well as the grades of those around them. The temptations of having a laptop in class with endless possibilities of things to look up has proven time and time again far too great an obstacle for students, even those who swore to themselves they would only take notes on the laptop during class.

The reasoning behind such research almost always boils down to the two same points: Students love technology, and they’re bad at multi-tasking. Most college students grew up with technology in the home and fostered their love of technology through school typing classes, technologically integrated activities in the classroom and having several electronic devices at their disposal.

Take me, for instance. I personally have three Kindle Fires, a Kindle Paperwhite, an MP3 player (yes, that’s something people still do), a smartphone, a laptop and a Winbook tablet. I adore them all, which so happens to be the same reason I am reluctant to bring any of them into a classroom. I understand that online homework, tests and papers make technology a necessity for school; however, they should not be the main mode used in the classroom. Distancing oneself from the distractions technologies offer permits one to focus on lectures without having six different screens buzzing and lighting up during class.

To students who argue that they can handle the distractions these six different screens create: the research disagrees. I’ve heard several of my classmates say that they need to keep their phone out and continuously check their email during class and text their friends lunch plans and write a 3,000-page paper all while supposedly taking notes on their laptop. The problem with technology and multi-tasking is just that: students cannot multi-task well at all.

In 2009, Stanford studied a group of students who believed themselves to be fantastic multi-taskers. The study asked them to put their money where their mouth was while remembering what sign they just passed in a simulated vehicle while putting makeup on or texting. The results were quite shocking to the students. They did exceedingly better on memory tasks when they completed just one task as opposed to attempting to multi-task.

Students who multi-tasked, the test results showed, were less cognitively aware and therefore had worse memories of the tasks they completed. In other words, the students were half-assing several things instead of full-assing one thing.

These studies are exactly why professors ban electronic “note-taking” in the classroom. They know that students who use a laptop to take notes will be more likely to try multi-tasking during class, and, as a result, their technology-loving peers will be distracted by what the student is doing online. As such, the student who uses a laptop to take notes during class essentially pokes a hole in the inflatable boat he and his peers are on, and they’re all too distracted by his Facebook feed to realize they’re drowning.

One of my classes this semester demonstrates this rather well. A person sitting near me in the first row uses her laptop to “take notes” — that is, to literally do everything but take lecture notes. Although a studious student, I have in fact missed information during lectures because I was too busy looking at what my roommate tells me are “dank memes” to catch the year a war began in.

When a professor asks students not to take notes on a laptop, chances are that professor is familiar with the research behind these studies and is just looking out for the students’ best interests. Being young folk with personal fable complexes, it’s sometimes nice to have a professor willing to yank out plugs out from underneath us and teach us something not only about class materials, but ourselves as well.