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Are professors hindering students’ learning processes by taking away laptops?

 Are professors hindering students’ learning processes by taking away laptops?


         Professors in higher education are debating whether laptops should be allowed in the classroom. All learning styles and students learning abilities are different, so why should a student’s options be limited? Laptops and other forms of technology are beneficial and therefore should be allowed in the classroom due to: they help students to easily and quickly write notes, keep them organized and, improve on spelling and grammar. In this post, I will explain why professors should allow laptops in their classrooms and encourage universal design for learning.

     Susan Dynarski, a professor at the University of Michigan, published an op-ed in The New York Times bragging about banning laptops in her classrooms instead of using universal learning. In her article, she mentions how she bans laptops in the classroom, but then she states that Students with learning disabilities may use electronics in order to participate in class. This does reveal that any student using electronics has a learning disability. That is a loss of privacy for those students”. By giving only disabled students the opportunity to use laptops, it makes them not only stand out in somewhat of a negative way but, also may make them discouraged in using their devices. If laptops were allowed for the whole class, it would let students learn in the style that works best for them. “universal design for learning—developing classroom practices that work for all students, including those with disabilities, without singling out any student for special accommodations or requiring a student to ask for special help.” Using this type of learning would help everyone in the classroom and make everyone equalized. When professors put limitations in the way students learn, it will have negative effects, as shown in Dynarski’s piece, on the learning strategies of the student.

      Laptops not only allow a student to type notes, but they also allow students to keep all of their notes together and organized. The blog on Engadget, which reviews the benefits of technology and universal learning in the classroom, by Dimitar states, The students can type the notes, edit them when required and delete the less important portions of the assignments. Even they will be less afraid of the assignment being lost or damaged as compared to the handwritten assignments.” When using the laptop for organization the benefits outweigh the cost, as shown in Pryall and Jack’s article. This article speaks about different studies in response to their disagreement with Dynarski’s article. They state, “In one study, taking notes by hand amounted to a not-very-whopping 2% improvement on a test score.” This shows that the TWO percent difference is actually very small and shouldn’t sway a professor's opinion that laptops shouldn’t be allowed in classrooms. Moreover, this shows that there isn’t sufficient evidence to ban laptops.

      Students also use laptops as a tool in two ways: either to help or hinder themselves during class. Laptops shouldn’t be taken away from the students that are using them properly because of their other classmates. For example, in the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, professor Dynarski says, “Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.” This isn’t backed up with any fact just opinion and laptops are only distracting if you make them distracting. If professors used laptops to engaged their student and made them use laptops in an interactive setting then laptops wouldn’t be as distracting.

     A large part of the classroom involves student participation and staying engaged during the whole lesson. Professors have started to use laptops as a way to keep the students focused and attentive by integrating them into the classroom. According to Beth Fischer in The Teaching Center, she argues,  “Students enrolled in courses in which they used Lecture Tools on their laptops in the class reported higher levels of engagement and learning than students in courses in which the instructor allowed laptops but did not integrate them into instruction.” This data comes from a study by the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, which looks at how student attentiveness is affected in the classroom.

     Another approach to learning could be only using laptops during group collaboration. his seems like a good idea and can be potentially helpful. According to Dimitar from Engadget, he states,  “They [students] should be allowed to use it not for fun in the classroom. The teachers should allow the students to use their laptops only during the discussion activities, group learning activities and during research projects. It will lead them to innovation.” This wouldn’t be as effective to every student because everyone learns differently but this would be a good transition into universal learning for everyone.

      Laptops should be allowed in the classroom as an option for any student. These studies have shown that laptops are beneficial and important to a student’s individual learning style. Professors shouldn’t limit their students by not allowing laptops and instead should advocate for universal learning for all students.


Picture Credit to Nikolayhg on Pixabay


1 comment

This is a very smart, incisive survey through the pros and cons of laptop use in the classroom including an excellent sorting out of bias from fact.  As you state, a 2% difference in test results between those taking notes on a laptop or by hand is not statistically relevant.  Nor does such a result question what the benefit of "test scores" might be for actual learning--retention, applicability of knowledge gained to further academic and career situations, including (as you point out) the ability to search one's own class notes later and in different situations, and on and on.  Great blog!  I hope you'll consider posting again.