The simplest solution is often the best. It’s now undisputed common knowledge that laptops, phones, and other technologies brought into class distract you and those around you who are forced to be aware of your fascinating screen. Tens of thousands of professors, and increasing numbers of departments, ban laptops from the classroom.

And this is clearly the trend. In a few years, two or three techno-cults will survive on a few campuses; their directors-of-campus-technology leaders will continue to insist that watching Tits Galore while listening to a Heidegger lecture makes the concept of Geworfenheit ever so much clearer. But they will be shouted down; eventually, it will be very difficult indeed to find a laptop-friendly university classroom.

But professors aren’t always attracted to simple solutions. Faced with the laptop problem, they contort themselves, and they turn students who are supposed to be learning things into guinea pigs.

Take York University’s Henry Kim. Kim is fully aware that his students aren’t listening to him because they’re watching shit on their laptops. Instead of banning laptops, however, Kim has taken a page out of Erich Honecker’s East Germany and turned his students into a spy network. If a student sees another student using her laptop for non-class purposes (Kim has already had his students swear some ridiculous pledge, etc.), she is to report that to Kim.

“It’s not meant to be punitive — it’s almost like a thought experiment, and the whole point is to create a new social norm in my class.”

Comrade Honecker speaks! Creating new social norms by encouraging students to turn in other students – that’s the solution to the laptop problem!

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