Laptops: Distraction or learning aid in class?

So, it looks like MacBooks are “in.” Every classroom has the handful of students that have them resolutely centered on their desks. But the person sitting behind you probably doesn’t think it’s used to benefit your academic experience.

MacBooks aren’t the only perpetrators; this academic abandon seems pretty universal for the entire I-have-a-laptop-to-take-notes crowd, which is a good portion of our generation. It looks like one in every five is actually doing something productive, which productivity may or may not have anything to do with the class.

The point is: Gross use of technology does little to actually aid in the educative process.

There really isn’t much to be done about it aside from a collective overhaul. After all, surfing the web during class time is only a more advanced (and much more distracting) version of doodling in a notebook. We couldn’t very well ban the use of laptops in classes, but there is something inherently more distracting (and destructive) in laptop abuse than sketching stick figures. Something has to be
done, but it seems the only effective cure is nothing short of a generational wake-up call.

They call us “digital natives,” the twenty-somethings and younger who grew up or came of age in this digital epoch. The use of laptops in the classroom is a symptom of this injurious rewiring. We’ve become so accustomed to a bombardment of technology we can’t even sit through a class without checking cyberspace, I.M.ing a friend, or downloading the latest Lady Gaga video.

We’ve collectively reprogrammed ourselves to demand distractions. Like a virus, we’ve contracted attention deficit disorders that require our constant diversion from everything, including our education and often human interaction.

Sly web-users are not so different from the guy in the back corner of the class who has his Skullcandy slung modishly over his ear with his Ipod turned up just a little too loud and simply doesn’t care. Does anybody else remember how much we’re paying a semester for this education? Forget the costs, does anyone remember that we’re the future of civilization? We’re techno-zombies avoiding responsibility by absorbing ourselves in trivial web-communities while we should be bettering ourselves and furthering our education.

If your laptop is set out on your desk so you can zone out of the lecture and do anything other than better the educational experience, then do our generation a favor and turn it off, and place it carefully into your backpack. We may not go down as the dumbest generation yet.

Alex Sousa is studying journalism in UVU’s communication department. He’s serving as the managing editor at the UVU Review as well as the editor of the music blog on uvureview.com. He’s had experience working as a freelance writer and also as a copy writer at a marketing agency. Currently he’s working as the Editor-in-chief of the Utah Tech Magazine, an interactive, digital publication. He’s a Utah native who’s traveled around the world; having lived in Mexico, backpacked through Europe, studied in the Middle East and—for a time—been stranded in the Ukraine. He can be found on Facebook and he’s available on Twitter @TwoFistedSousa or by email at aljosousa@gmail.com.

10 Responses to "Laptops: Distraction or learning aid in class?"

  1. Nathan   November 2, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    1. If teachers didn’t make attendance mandatory, there would be fewer students who don’t want to be there.

    2. If you don’t want to be distracted by a student in front of you who is surfing the web, there’s always the front row.

    3. Are you seeing this in classes that are required for your major or just the general classes that everyone has to take?

    Reply
  2. Jon   November 3, 2009 at 1:08 am

    1. If they don’t want to be there, why are they taking the class? And if you tell me it’s “just a generals class” then they might want to rethink how much they value the $1,900 full-time tuition cost. What’s going to take you farther, valuing your education whether or not it is required for your major, or attempting to just get the credit on your transcript?

    2. Actually, the front row isn’t always there, yes, this strange phenomenon where students actually sit in the front row occurs on occasion.

    3. Once again, it doesn’t matter WHAT class it is in.

    Reply
  3. Kyle   November 3, 2009 at 8:38 am

    1. They paid for the class, it’s their choice whether they want to value it or not. We’re not in high school anymore. I agree with Nathan – If the student doesn’t want to be there, they shouldn’t have to be. Who’s footing the bill, exactly?

    2. Now you’re just being an idiot. This strange phenomenon where idiots get hold of a keyboard and make stupid responses also occurs on occasion. Too often, it seems.

    3. Now, I absolutely agree with you. It doesn’t matter what class it’s in, because the student chose to take the class. There’s no rule, there’s no consequence, only pithy whiners who see everything around them as a direct assault on their well-being. Go cry yourself to sleep because someone else isn’t taking the class “seriously enough.” Geez.

    Reply
  4. Person   November 3, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    1. The class is boring. You could pass it in your sleep.

    2. You didn’t get there soon enough.

    3. Did I mention that you could’ve been sleeping?

    Reply
  5. Monty   November 3, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    I think the fact that you people defending slacking off in class is what he meant when he said we need a “generational wake-up call.”

    Reply
  6. Nathan   November 5, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    @Monty

    School will always be what you make of it. If I find that something the professor has said causes interest in something unrelated to the lecture, I won’t lose any sleep over pursuing the interesting point at the expense of the dull classroom.

    I have attended other schools as well, and I can tell you that there are some teachers who make class time effective, and others that don’t. If there is a problem with attention in class, then the professor should consider it a damning critique of their teaching style.

    If you want to call it slacking off in class when I feel like my time could be used more effectively doing something else. So be it. For the record, I never surfed the web during my Calc II class last semester. Anyone who has taken the class will know why. Anyone how hasn’t will probably reply to this and condemn me for defending slackers. Before you do,…

    Reply
  7. Me   November 9, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    I think they are a distraction to the user, the teacher, and the other people in the class. I would appreciate if teachers banned their use while in class.

    Reply
  8. Nathan   November 11, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Wow, a perfect parroting of the original article.

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

    Reply
  9. Nathan   November 13, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Here’s an example of a few teachers who have the right idea:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704402404574524402818418042.html

    Reply
  10. Jake   December 6, 2009 at 4:57 am

    I’m writing this comment instead of listening to the lecture.

    Reply

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