In Class Laptop Use Shown to Lower Test Scores…

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

Intellagirl posted a note about this article today and I was curious, so I read it too…
She suggested that the article had entirely missed the point, and she is absolutely right!

The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 16, 2009

Students Stop Surfing After Being Shown How In-Class Laptop Use Lowers Test Scores

The article seems to be reporting on a victory in the reduction of laptop use in the classroom. Yup, you heard right, they are actually HAPPY that their students are no longer using modern technology in the classroom. The belief seems to be that using the laptop causes the students to do less well on tests.

Now, to be fair, they do admit that those students who had lower scores were in fact using their computers to check out their FB pages, ‘surf’ (apparently we *still* have a problem with surfers), watch YouTube, etc.

Churchill’s Commentary on Man:
Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.

So, OF COURSE, this article argues, the technology MUST be to blame (funny how so much of this can be connected back to ‘Trouble in River City‘). Apparently, the problem here does NOT have to do with the fact that these students are doing the modern equivalent of “passing notes in class”. HEY! Maybe we could have solved that old problem way back in my parents’ day by making rules against the use of paper in class. THAT would have learned ’em. Those recalcitrant students wouldn’t have been able to pass notes, or doodle, or do any of those other things that distract students from their lessons…. if ONLY we would have prevented them from using paper. Then they would have HAD to pay attention. Because, after all, we KNOW that an impoverished environment is good for learning.

This seems to be where the article is going, and interestingly, almost all the people who posted comments have zeroed in on the idea that a professor SHOULD be able to make whatever rules they please, and that laptops in the classroom are nothing but trouble.

Well, here’s another angle…. (Intellagirl also made comments along these same lines.)

I’m a professor and I use my computer in class ALL the time – to support and supplement what I am talking about in class. IT’S A TOOL FOLKS. Seems to me at least part of the problem (and reason many profs are so keen to make rules about the use of technology in the classroom) is that many faculty have no clue how to use the computer effectively themselves and appear to be trying to preserve the style and form of teaching common when THEY were students. We do tend to do that – and I will admit that it can be very hard to try and do things differently from the way they were done to you.

Most institutions of higher learning these days provide their faculty with access to computers and the Internet in the classroom. I am no longer surprised, but I am still disappointed by the way many professors use them. Most use the computer as though it were simply an overhead projector – they display static slides. Thanks to the wonders of PowerPoint (and others, though most faculty will have never heard of things like OpenOffice Impress) some of these slides feature COLOUR, and even PICTURES. And, every now and then a slide will go WHOOSH. That, to some at least, is the epitome of modern teaching.

Okay, so maybe I am overstating, but, really folks, not by much.

So, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Model the behaviour you want to see in your students – making all kinds of rules is not conducive to learning.
  2. Learn to use the computer as a tool yourself.(use to find things on the fly, like pictures, videos, answers)
  3. I agree with Intellagirl. Make your class more interesting – give them a reason to pay attention to you.
  4. And, like Intellagirl said, enlist the help of those with laptops to enrich your class.

I can almost guarantee that if you make your class more interesting and give students a REASON to pay attention, your test scores will go up too, and those students who are the savviest when it comes to using their laptops may well end up doing the best.

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