Laptops in class. There seem to be two camps on the subject: those who use and love them and those who despise them.


There is an obvious fine line appearing between the two camps on laptops in class.

To those who are users of laptops in class, what could be better? Most students have been required to know how to type since elementary school, making typing speeds frequently faster than handwriting. Obviously, this makes taking notes easier and more efficient.

But laptops also mean the Internet, which means a world full of technology, all a click away. What chance does a professor have of keeping students’ attention when, instead of learning about the Gettysburg Address the old fashioned way in a classroom with a textbook, one can just go to Wikipedia and get the brief CliffsNotes version – or, even better, go to YouTube and watch a reenactment of it.

Still, if students were only using their laptops for class-related materials, it would not be so bad. But, with multiple windows and multiple tabs, it’s too easy to multitask and not focus on just class-related materials. Facebook, Twitter, email and ESPN are just a few common distractions that are seen on the average laptop screen, and unfortunately, that isn’t just seen by the laptop user. Students behind and around the laptop are also subject to the distractions, willing or not.

Associate Professor of Humanities at the University of Colorado at Boulder Diane E. Sieber calls this trend the “cone of distraction.”

Annoyed with the disturbances in her classroom, Seiber decided one semester to research if laptops were becoming detrimental to grades. She secretly followed 17 laptop addicts and found that their average grade was 71%, nearly the same score as students who do not go to class at all.

Because of the “cone of distraction” and unfavorable test scores, many professors across the country have put a ban on laptops in their classrooms. Some professors at this university may want to take note.

Many professors have it clearly outlined in their syllabus that they prefer that laptops be kept closed and put away during class time, but most students fail to take this preference seriously. This causes a conundrum for both teachers and students, especially those who dislike the idea of laptops in class.

As Spanish instructor Roberto Morales conveyed, it is a matter of respect, and students who do not follow the rules are simply being disrespectful. This does not just apply to students with laptops, but also cell phones. Smartphones may as well be a handheld laptop, full of apps, the Internet and even a game or two of Angry Birds to keep one occupied in class. In a world full of technology that keeps getting smaller and more compact, trying to keep students interested and attentive is becoming more difficult.

What is a student to do when their classmate is obviously not only not paying attention or engaging in discussions, but also distracting others with their incessant web browsing? Is it their responsibility to say something and ask them to stop, or should they wait for the professor to take control and stop the offender?

Therein lies the problem. No one knows what to do. Students wait for professors to do something and professors trust that students will convey their annoyance to their classmates. Whose responsibility is it?

Nearly everyone agrees that something has to happen, so does it really matter who does it?

Responsibility rests with everyone. Bothered by a laptop user? Say something to him or her personally. If that does not help, talk to the teacher and see if something further can be done. If you are a laptop user, assess your time in class and see if it is being used wisely. Social networking is important to everyone, for more than just establishing friendships, but it’s not going anywhere and can be checked between classes.

For some, laptops are essential to the learning experience, and if that’s the case, it’s important to clear usage with professors first and try to sit near the back of the class to avoid being the center of the “cone of distraction.”