‘Using Laptops in Class Harms Academic Performance, Study Warns’

What a shocker!

This is around the twentieth study to yield results like these.


The real question now is: Why will most professors – assuming they bother to find out these results – not get rid of laptops?

And the answer is easy: Most of them are afraid to. No telling how students will respond.

And the rest of the professors? Laptops make their teaching lives ever so much easier. Life is beautiful when no one’s listening. Many such teachers compound the loveliness by using PowerPoint throughout the class, thus creating what UD calls The Morgue Classroom. They just need to stand there reading words out loud while students watch football games. A nice quiet workable twice weekly experience.

“[W]hile he is lecturing everyone is either on their phones or laptops ignoring him… Imagine standing there in front of 100s of students and being ignored.”

Hector Perla, late of UC Santa Cruz, hit all his marks. In class, he didn’t give a shit about being ignored – let ’em use laptops! – and outside of class… well… He just scored “one of the largest Title IX settlements in US history.”

Haha – I mean, his student did. The student he reportedly raped.

The claim centered on allegations that the student was sexually assaulted by one of her professors on June 13, 2015 and that UCSC knew for years that the Professor was a sexual predator. “It let the wolf roam,” Kristensen Weisberg, LLP alleged. UCSC’s failure to rein in the professor “only encouraged his ambitions. Like many other higher institutions, UCSC looked the other way when it became aware [the professor] was hunting undergraduates…The sexual assault and UCSC’s response is illustrative of the criminal neglect by a feckless administration that cannot even follow its own rules, and once it is too late, it tries to bandage up its prior malfeasance.”

UCSC had to pay out a lot of money – but that was just for one lone wolf. Here’s hoping the Baptist General Convention of Texas is real rich. The last football coach at Baylor University was recently described as “a free pimp” for his players.

“Last week, at the Aspen Ideas festival, there came an interesting little moment between Kentaro Toyama, a computer scientist, and Jim Steyer, a lawyer and entrepreneur. Both declared that they’d banned laptops and other electronic devices in their lecture halls.”

“[F]ar more of [their] colleagues are banning laptops than they did five years ago…”

Well that’s great. That’s just great. Those of us who’ve been screaming for the last ten years about the classroom laptop scam are thrilled. But why isn’t anyone expressing any remorse about a decade of students lost to the fad? Why isn’t anyone saying anything about the many lazy cynical professors who continue to promote laptop use in their classrooms?

No laptops. Another cutting edge idea from the Aspen Ideas festival.

“The Office of Teaching & Learning at [the University of Denver] does not ban technology in the classroom. As the office points out on its website, students had plenty of options for not paying attention before laptops became commonplace, whether through daydreaming or doodling.”

Good old Offices of Teaching & Learning. They’re reading (they’re supposed to be reading) the same studies professors are reading (supposed to be reading). In fact, they’re supposed to be the campus experts, the highest campus authorities, on best teaching practices. But although more and more professors are banning laptops (the article from which my post’s title is taken is all about how more and more DU professors are banning technology) in the light of overwhelming evidence that they damage comprehension, attention, and participation, most university teaching centers seem to have no policy on the matter – or they think laptops are terrific, wonderful, great…

DU’s office still thinks it’s clever to compare distraction through looking out the window or dragging your pencil across note paper to having instant access to the entire world of movies, stores, news outlets, and social media.

Why can’t the Office of Teaching & Learning learn?

Spectacularly mature and well-written piece on laptops in the classroom…

… by a Wesleyan University undergrad. One of the keenest, calmest, most honest, considerations UD has seen of the phenomenon.

It is our obligation as students to delve more deeply into the impacts of technology on our education and our values, and this can only happen through reflection about the influence of technology on what and how we learn… The questions raised by technology are not just questions about distraction or temptation. They are deeper human questions about how we learn, and they must be addressed if we ever hope to reach an understanding of how technology should be used in the service of learning. Whatever decision professors or students might make about the use of technology in the classroom, these questions can serve as springboards for discussion about the importance, for example, of an engaging classroom environment, and about why complete focus and open interaction with one’s classmates are essential to this environment.

Concisely, incisively, she gets to the core of why professors who allow – much less encourage – laptops in their classroom are guilty of pedagogical malpractice.

But – as UD has said for years on this blog – laptop lecturers, who totally grasp the advantages of talking to an audience that ignores you (especially if, like many of these lecturers, you spice up the classroom sizzle with extensive PowerPoint use), will never shut down the enterprise. Nor will their university’s administrators, who after all have been giving these drones awards for innovative use of technology in the classroom. As UD has always said, and as this and other student editorials suggest, change will come only from a popular revolt.

Thus laptops do make louses of us all.

Yet another professor allows himself to be reduced to a low-level Stasi operative.

From the extensive official directives issued to students in a class at the University of Santa Clara:

(b) When in class, you may not disturb me or your classmates with irrelevant computer or phone activities.
(c) Examples of violations: watching videos, checking Facebook, texting, playing games, doing anything related to your phone, or walking in late yet talking loudly while getting settled.

L.R. 4.1 Penalties for violation:
(i) For each violation of L.R. 4, points will be deducted from the 200 “professionalism” points available this term. (That is the same value as your revised CF2 memo.)
(ii) I dislike public shaming, but to encourage professional behavior, when I observe impermissible conduct I will announce a reminder about the problem. I will also note the student(s) involved, and later email notice of how many points were lost.

It’s pretty clear that this professor spends most of his prep time drawing up class conduct contracts, and most of his actual class time calculating demerits. The simple expedient of banning laptops and phones seems not to have occurred to him. As it is, he’s well on his way toward becoming a higher-level operative.

“We’d all be better off if more professors [would ban] laptops.”

Students – like this one at the University of Maryland – know it. But many can’t stop playing screen games, even in class, so they won’t back a ban.

“Why,” asks this same student, “do professors take this lackadaisical approach when they can ban laptops and get rid of such high levels of distraction altogether?”

Because many professors like what UD has called The Morgue Classroom [scroll down]. A night of the living dead classroom — lights set low, silent students enrapt before screens, professors intoning PowerPoints — this is, let us admit, a beautiful thing, a mystical thing, a floating atmosphere that frees the dreaming mind to roam…

Emily Fish, who calls for the ban, is a freshman at College Park, and, as such, still educable. She can still be brought to feel the dark pull of the new classroom. But there’s undoubtedly a learning curve. Many of the changes occurring in twenty-first century classrooms need to be clarified to students. Think here of the problems Murray Siskind, in Don DeLillo’s White Noise, had with the students in his seminar celebrating the car crash.

“[My students think these more and more massive car crashes in movies] mark the suicide wish of technology. The drive to suicide, the hurtling rush to suicide.”

“What do you say to them?”

“These are mainly B-movies, TV movies, rural drive-in movies. I tell my students not to look for apocalypse in such places. I see these car crashes as part of a long tradition of American optimism. They are positive events, full of the old ‘can-do’ spirit. Each car crash is meant to be better than the last. There is a constant upgrading of tools and skills, a meeting of challenges. A director says, ‘I need this flatbed truck to do a midair double somersault that produces an orange ball of fire with a thirty-six-foot diameter, which the cinematographer will use to light the scene.’ I tell my students if they want to bring technology into it, they have to take this into account, this tendency toward grandiose deeds, toward pursuing a dream.”

“A dream? How do your students reply?”

“Just the way you did. ‘A dream?’ All that blood and glass, that screeching rubber. What about the sheer waste, the sense of a civilization in a state of decay?”

“What about it?” I said.

“I tell them it’s not decay they are seeing but innocence. The movie breaks away from complicated human passions to show us something elemental, something fiery and loud and head-on. It’s a conservative wish-fulfillment, a yearning for naivete. We want to be artless again. We want to reverse the flow of experience, of worldliness and its responsibilities. My students say, ‘Look at the crushed bodies, the severed limbs. What kind of innocence is this?'”

“What do you say to that?”

“I tell them they can’t think of a car crash in a movie as a violent act. It’s a celebration. A reaffirmation of traditional values and beliefs. I connect car crashes to holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth. We don’t mourn the dead or rejoice in miracles. These are days of secular optimism, of self-celebration. We will improve, prosper, perfect ourselves. Watch any car crash in any American movie. It is a high-spirited moment like old-fashioned stunt flying, walking on wings. The people who stage these crashes are able to capture a lightheartedness, a carefree enjoyment that car crashes in foreign movies can never approach.”

“Look past the violence.”

“Exactly. Look past the violence, Jack. There is a wonderful brimming spirit of innocence and fun.”

The Morgue Classroom breaks away from complication to make the classroom a chapel of private fantasies – sex fantasies, sports fantasies, gun fantasies, crash fantasies, whatever you seek from the screen.

Perhaps eventually the Morgue Classroom will shake itself awake and morph into something like a circle jerk. But that’s probably not for a few more years.

‘[T]oday’s students enter their first lecture anxiously awaiting the professor’s electronic device policy. It’s not uncommon to hear hundreds of laptops clapping shut shortly after syllabi are distributed. It’s the sound of an epidemic.’

UD‘s only question, as you know if you’ve read this blog for more than five minutes, is What took so long?

This article about NYU is amusing. One professor, who points out that laptops create a physical barrier between students and professors, says that if you love laptops in the classroom, “Drop out of NYU and go enroll in the University of Phoenix.”

The NYU student reporter is way down on no-laptop professors like UD. It turns out we’re motivated by fear:

[E]ducators are always afraid that their lessons will be overshadowed by the outside world. Often, that’s because their lessons are boring.

Digital media scholar and professor Melanie Kohnen, also of the Media, Culture and Communication department, thinks that teachers who enforce a draconian laptop lockdown are “motivated by the fear of losing students’ attention.”

It is scandalous. The idea of trying to arrange your classroom so that people pay attention…

Anyway. Read the comments on the article. They’re very thoughtful.

“[Y]ou see professors from a great distance, in space as well as culture: from the back of a vast dark auditorium, full of your peers checking Facebook on their laptops.”

In reviewing a bunch of new books about the American university, UD‘s friend Anthony Grafton provides a phenomenology of the contemporary campus.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm looks at a new book about laptops in the classroom.

This is how its author writes.

Two seismic forces beyond our control — the advent of Web. 2.0 and the inexorable influx of tech-savvy millennials on campus — are shaping what I call the new digital shoreline of higher education. These forces demand that we as educators reconsider the learning theories, pedagogies and practices on which we have depended.

The book, whose clunky mixed-up title I’ll let you discover at the link, wants us to know that it’s all good — all the twittering shit our students trail into class is all good. And even if it isn’t, it’s… what’d he say? It’s a seismic force, so you can’t do anything about it anyway sucker. It’s Nature, baby! Beyond our control! You think you can keep The Tumblr Temblor out of Classroom 25A Soltan Intro American Lit? It’s fucking inexorable! I’m not gonna argue the thing ’cause we all know it’s just a … a …. thing and you can’t do anything about things.

Nor can you do anything about pretentious writers. Look at this paragraph, with its pseudo-urgency and its self-importance (what I call) and its we as educators

Huh? Educators? What’s wrong with educators, SOS?

I dunno. I can only report the following. Every self-respecting professor I’ve ever known has at some point said to me something like: The worst dread I have about dying is that my obituary headline will call me an EDUCATOR. It’ll say LOCAL EDUCATOR DIES.

I mean, maybe they haven’t said something so strong. All have, however, expressed contempt for the word educator, and have shuddered at the thought of it being applied to them.

Is it because we’re cynical lazy shits who don’t truly educate? No. Au contraire. There’s something about the word. Again, I don’t really know. I only know it’s embarrassing. And it’s totally not surprising to find it here, in this empty pretentious paragraph, the guy patting himself on the back for being an educator.

And – you know – those teaching practices of the past… We haven’t just used them. No: We’ve depended on them. We’ve been in a co-dependent relationship with them, and we’re terrified of losing them to those uncontrollable seismic millennial things.

Mobile apps, content sharing and these tech-savvy students can become a professor’s best assets in the classroom, even if they sometimes seem threatening.

Threatening? It’s a fucking Phuket coming right at me! And there’s nothing I can do. I, Educator, have lost control of my classroom.

But here’s the good news:

These students are helping us — teachers at all levels — with new ways to communicate and they’re motivating us to truly see the potential of the vast, shared and co-created information resources that exist within interconnected nodes. We’re being challenged to rethink information creation, storage and delivery. They are time-slicers, shape-shifters, creators and mobile connectors. The playthings of our students’ youth are becoming the tools of their future.

I haven’t encountered language like this since my late lamented hippie youth. We are da yout! The last sentence is positively Cultural Revolution boilerplate: THE PLAYTHINGS OF OUR STUDENTS’ YOUTH ARE BECOMING THE TOOLS OF THEIR FUTURE. GLORIOUS FUTURE! DON’T BE SCARED, EDUCATOR! JOIN OUR YOUTH. TAKE UP THE CHALLENGE.


Send this guy a copy pronto.

“Between laptops and fidgeting students, the classroom is quickly becoming one of the worst environments in which to learn.”

The first sentence of this University of Idaho student’s evisceration of the classroom laptop says it all. Technology has defeated the classroom. Online is the wave of the future; and the only question is what universities are going to do with those howling spaces all over campus.

“University students have noticed more and more professors banning the use of technology, such as laptops, in classrooms. This runs counter to Information Technology Services’ commitment to providing and supporting academically relevant technology at CWRU.”

Even at high-tech schools like Case Western Reserve, the techno-divide between professors and students widens. The campus newspaper notes the scandal of faculty running counter to the technolust of the IT people.

One of the IT people exults that “Twenty-first-century learning allows us to be immersed in a digital landscape.” She, like the student journalists, seems confused by growing numbers of professors for whom the phase immersed in a digital landscape doesn’t correlate at all well to what they want students in their classes to be.

I suppose we can anticipate an alliance developing between IT and students at some universities, in which these two groups sort of gang up on faculty as it bans the classroom laptop.

“(I have been told, though I have not confirmed this, that Harvard Business School bans laptops and has turned off wireless connections in classrooms. I also heard an unconfirmed story that the Kennedy School Student Government had considered requesting that laptops/mobile devices be banned, but in the end didn’t do so.)”

Another new semester, another lap around the laptops in the classroom issue.

Steve Kelman, of Harvard’s Kennedy School, writes a pretty sensible post about them. He tells us, in a parenthetical whisper, of rumors involving this or that entire school banning them… Universities will increasingly ban them, for all the obvious reasons Kelman cites and more (they keep you from paying attention and learning anything; they distract the students around you; they are seriously rude, etc., etc.); but for now most schools are shilly-shallying. They know how horrible mobile devices are in class, but they’re afraid of pissing off students if they ban them… and, after all, it makes the schools feel like idiots to have spent so much money and rhetoric on the glories of classroom laptops and now to have to admit that they invested their money and their rhetoric unwisely.

But do not fail to note that in Kelman’s second example the pressure is coming from the students themselves. They know more intimately than professors just how these devices are being used, and if they have a smidgeon of intellectual seriousness they want them out of their faces.

Here’s Kelman’s policy, as stated on his syllabi:

In class, use of laptops to take notes is fine. However, use of laptops in class to check e-mail, surf the Web, use Facebook or Twitter, text, etc. [is] unprofessional and disrespectful to everyone in the classroom. All mobile devices must be switched off during class.

(He uses “mobile devices” to cover iPhones.)

The problem with this policy is that almost no one will follow it; so Kelman has condemned himself to life as a policeman.

‘Now, along with a growing number of other US academics – and backed by new neurological research suggesting that technological distractions are taking a significant toll on learning – he has taken the dramatic step of banning laptops from his classes.’

Times Higher Education has a longish article stating the obvious: You can’t learn with your laptop open.

It also states the less than obvious: American university professors are beginning to realize this.


Course, if y’all’d been reading University Diaries starting back in – I dunno – 2007 – you’d have had post after post screaming about how stupid it is to let your students use laptops in class.

Universities have dropped millions for technology (“The backlash against technology comes after universities have spent fortunes wiring their campuses for access to the internet.”); they’ve conducted all kinds of research to prove the self-evident (“[T]he students’ memories were disorganised; they fixated on irrelevant data, could not follow specific directions that required paying attention and wrote poorly.”); they’ve laptopped everything only to realize how stupid it is to laptop everything (“We have put the whole course online. We’ve videotaped it so that [students] can stay home and watch it in their rooms. We’ve put everything online so they have a reason to open the laptop. We’ve done this for them thinking it was progress. It confuses [students] when we now say: ‘Don’t open your laptop.'”).

So now where are we? Duh. Backlash territory. More and more universities are banning laptops from classrooms.

Sherry Turkle says it’s “the time of repentance,” but that’s horseshit. Universities weren’t thinking in the first place, so they’re not returning to thought now. They’re just embarrassed and confused by the mess they’ve created, and they’re trying to clean it up.

Universities created the mess because they’re lazy, and because they’re afraid of students. “[W]e make [laptop use in class] easy and allow people to get away with it. But if universities allow or encourage it, or don’t actively discourage it, then you’re creating a situation that does not just have short-term but also long-term effects.”

We’ll see how many professors and universities have the guts to cross laptop-loving students.

Some nice lines about cell phones and laptops…

… in this article from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs campus newspaper.

… “I have a blanket policy: no phones in my class for any reason, period,” said Chris Bell, director of the Oral Communication Center. “Laptops are fine, but I walk around a lot and I have grad TAs with me a lot of the time. Any of us ever see you doing anything other than taking notes, automatic full letter grade loss for the overall course. No questions, no excuses. My class is not your ESPN time.”

… “As far as phones go,” [said Todd Waters, a GTA,] “I have no tolerance whatsoever. Texting on a cell phone is the single rudest thing anyone can do to disrupt any communication context, including when the teacher is speaking, but primarily when another classmate is speaking/contributing to discussion. Basically, it’s a big, fat, massive [sic] you to everyone.” …

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