The educational technology revolution is over.
November 28, 2017 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Laptops are great. But not during a lecture or meeting. In a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture. Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.

At the United States Military Academy, a team of professors studied laptop use in an introductory economics class. The course was taught in small sections, which the researchers randomly assigned to one of three conditions: electronics allowed, electronics banned and tablets allowed but only if laid flat on desks, where professors could monitor their use. By the end of the semester, students in the classrooms with laptops or tablets had performed substantially worse than those in the sections where electronics were banned.

Computers and productivity: Evidence from laptop use in the college classroom

Students’ Use of Notebook Computers in the College Classroom: Benefits and Pitfalls

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard
Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking


One caveat: In many of these studies, "learning" seems to be defined rather narrowly as the ability to recall information from a lecture.
posted by mecran01 (121 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
"learning" seems to be defined rather narrowly as the ability to recall information from a lecture.

A narrow definition perhaps, but a good first step.
posted by GuyZero at 10:24 AM on November 28 [19 favorites]


Students may object that a laptop ban prevents them from storing notes on their computers. But smartphones can snap pictures of handwritten pages and convert them to an electronic format. Even better, outside class, students can read their own handwritten notes and type them, if they like, a process that enhances learning.

The best studying I ever did involved making a clean copy, by hand, of all my notes from a computer architecture class that was kicking my ass. I took days to do it - the ideal was, don't copy anything over until I understood it.
posted by thelonius at 10:31 AM on November 28 [29 favorites]




Even during my time in college as Powerpoint became standard for lecture presentation I cherished my professors who still used the chalkboard. Seeing how the professor developed a solution or presented a theory was as valuable as writing it down myself.

(As an adult who has friends who are professors, I totally understand how much easy PowerPoint makes their lives though.)
posted by maryr at 10:32 AM on November 28 [6 favorites]


Lecture: An educational format in which knowledge passes from the textbook of the lecturer to the notebook of the student without passing through the mind of either.

I heard that one in the mid-1990s. Sounds like adding "on a computer" has made it even worse.
posted by clawsoon at 10:36 AM on November 28 [10 favorites]


"learning" seems to be defined rather narrowly as the ability to recall information from a lecture

probably because they needed something measurable
posted by thelonius at 10:36 AM on November 28 [7 favorites]


Previously (August 2014)

And this classic NYT article is much older than I thought, dating back to 2011. We'll probably never learn.
posted by morspin at 10:37 AM on November 28 [1 favorite]


Search twitter for "lollardfish" and laptop or laptops for a lot of comments about how stigmatizing it can be to be the only person with a disability in a classroom in which laptops are otherwise banned, and other issues with laptop bans. (note: some tweets may be satirical)

Here's an article by twitter user lollardfish, aka writer David M. Perry, Adventures in Universal Design: Handwriting Notes and In-class Exams.

Also he's pointed out issues of reproducibility of studies.

He's working on a book called Cult of Compliance: Disability Is Not A Crime.
posted by larrybob at 10:37 AM on November 28 [33 favorites]


from Space Coyote's link:

I have heard from instructors over and over that if they release their lecture materials, students would no longer attend lectures.

What a self-damning indictment on the relative educational value of their lectures.

If people don't come to your lectures unless they're compulsory, that means your lectures suck.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:38 AM on November 28 [71 favorites]


I'm actually planning to use this article next semester, when my class has a discussion about evaluating claims in the media. I'm almost 100% sure that some will insist they take better notes on the computer, which will lead to (a) discussing individual variation versus group trends, (b) personal subjectivity.

(I think I'll respond to that inevitable objection with: "So, why do you think that they didn't just do a survey?")

They won't be allowed to use their laptops during that class period (or most of them). Apart from the issue of whether or writing is a better way to take notes than writing, most students don't have the self-control to stay off of the internet.

And also, yeah, recalling information from a lecture is often pretty important. If we just said "recalling information from a lecture," instead of "learning," it wouldn't change my overall response to this latest flurry of articles. There are more advanced forms of learning, but it's hard to get there without a foundation of basic knowledge.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:38 AM on November 28 [17 favorites]


The problem isn’t the computer itself, it’s the willingness or ability of students to pay attention with such a powerful distraction in front of them, and also the availability of a back channel to comment on the lecture can be hard to ignore.

If all you have is a legal pad (i.e. excluding phones, magazines, paperbacks, books for other classes) you can pay attention or be even more bored.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:40 AM on November 28 [6 favorites]


What a self-damning indictment on the relative educational value of their lectures.

I don't think you can make that assumption. Students are often not the best judges of the value of a lecture; they think they can "make up" that value later, but they do miss things like the more nuanced understanding that can come from class discussion.

Also, some students just aren't that self-disciplined yet and if they can tell themselves, "I'll just study the notes later" as they blearily consider rolling out of bed, they will. It's the "good enough" option, not an "equally good" option. I know, because I've been that student.

I've also skipped lectures by really good professors--not because the lectures were poor, but because I didn't feel like going. Tired, busy, or just not really wanting to go out that day, etc. I've also skipped things like movies and parties because I didn't feel like it.

I mean, I still do generally make lecture materials available because some students have a genuine need, but if not for that I'd probably not share them.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:45 AM on November 28 [83 favorites]


If people don't come to your lectures unless they're compulsory, that means your lectures suck.

And the VAST MAJORITY of lectures suck. In almost all contexts, lectures are a TERRIBLE WAY to teach. Lectures are like video content on the internet; there's good reasons why everybody hates video content:

1. It's the slowest possible way to convey information
2. it doesn't let you move at your own pace,
3. and it actively *hides* content. Imagine if you could only see one word of this comment at a time, and needed to scrub a scroll bar back and forth to see them all.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:45 AM on November 28 [36 favorites]


So are electronic word processors cool again? Time to bust out my Alphasmart NEO!
posted by FJT at 10:47 AM on November 28 [5 favorites]




Imagine if you could only see one word of this comment at a time, and needed to scrub a scroll bar back and forth to see them all.

This is what it's like reading long multiparagraph comments on mobile.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:51 AM on November 28


I'm blessed with excellent recall, which is fortunate because I'm a terrible student who never really learned to study. Hand-writing notes during lectures was the bulk of my college education, because I sure as shit never looked a them again once they were written down.

I honestly can't imagine taking notes on a laptop, to say nothing of having an actual internet connection. And of course the screen is a distraction to those around you: it's a big glowing box, frequently covered in attractive advertising.

But yeah, you can't really ban laptops outright, but you can try to make students more aware of the trade-offs. They mostly won't make the right decisions, being adolescents who know everything, but maybe some of them will.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:55 AM on November 28 [10 favorites]


One caveat: In many of these studies, "learning" seems to be defined rather narrowly as the ability to recall information from a lecture.

Came here to scream this. Thank you.
posted by Melismata at 11:00 AM on November 28 [5 favorites]


Lexica: Someday we will treat college students like the adults they are.

Another thing that responsible adults do is accept that other adults have extra needs and so it's okay for them to have a laptop in class even if I can't.

I'm not sure which adult practise is more likely: Making responsible decisions about laptop use, or making responsible decisions about diversity.
posted by clawsoon at 11:00 AM on November 28 [21 favorites]


1. It's the slowest possible way to convey information
2. it doesn't let you move at your own pace,


If I could go at my own pace, I'd be moving so fast through the material just to get through it - "I can finish this hours' worth of material in 20 minutes!" - that I wouldn't actually absorb anything. A slower pace is needed.

Re: laptop notes - I can completely understand the idea that handwriting kicks things in your memory more effectively. But for law school I'm so glad I had a laptop with me - there's so much information to absorb every minute of the class that only a frantic typing pace can begin to capture it. And I am organizing my notes into an outline as I go, with tabs/indents and bold words etc. At home, I work through the material again and make a more structured, fleshed out outline of the full notes for the class, in preparation for the final exam. The three passes through the material - lecture through my ear, laptop note taking, and outline-making - are often enough.

Lately I've been really on board with so-called "mind mapping" tools - FreeMind, for example. I passed the California bar exam primarily by using a similar study tool.
posted by website user at 11:02 AM on November 28 [12 favorites]


I'd speculate that the going through the notes and re-writing them is the main thing, not the format they were taken down on in class.
posted by thelonius at 11:09 AM on November 28 [2 favorites]


It's not clear to me why the difference couldn't be something as simple as the fact that people are generally still more acclimated to taking notes longhand.
posted by teh_boy at 11:16 AM on November 28 [7 favorites]


My guess is that the reason hand written note taking is more effective is that the slow pace forces you to summarize and record only the most important points because you can't keep up to transcribe word for word. On a laptop if you are a fast typist you can zen out and just become a court reporter transcribing a speech without thinking about the content at all.
posted by JackFlash at 11:19 AM on November 28 [27 favorites]


I disagree with the article that taking a smartphone photo of handwritten notes is in any way equivalent to typing notes on a laptop. The point of typed, natively digital notes is that they are searchable. OCR still screws things up all the time, especially when it comes to text flow -- it cannot be dependably relied on to turn photos of densely written (even diagrammatic!) notes into a sensible, searchable digital format. I was turning this over in my head recentishly, but: archival is not primarily about storage, it is primarily about retrieval -- storage is just a prerequisite to retrieval, that's all.

That being said, I personally do think that if OCR were more advanced, handwritten notes -- or a similar technology -- would still have advantages over typed for those able to swing it. While I can see the reason in slower paces forcing students to listen and summarize, I'm surprised the article doesn't seem to mention the studies about recall with printed vs. digital text -- the little boost to memory provided by the greater number of distinct physical cues.
posted by inconstant at 11:23 AM on November 28 [12 favorites]


I wonder if note-taking was less effective back when people were better at writing quickly by hand. That would be an interesting experiment to do to test some of the hypotheses being suggested.
posted by clawsoon at 11:24 AM on November 28 [2 favorites]


I have no doubt the results were accurate.

I do have doubts that the only variables in play were "take notes by typing into computer vs by hand on paper."

Were the laptops chosen by the students, or by the school? Did they have the OS, program/app, keyboard, monitor, and mouse arrangements the students were used to? Were they touch-typists or self-taught "mostly I can find things on the keyboard" typists? Did they have to worry about saving the notes as they went along, or was there an auto-save in use? What formatting options did they have to note important info?

And probably the most important detail: Had those students ever been taught how to use a computer to take notes, as opposed to transferring their grade-school instructions about "how to take notes on paper" to digital on their own?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:25 AM on November 28 [4 favorites]


Hi. This was me, six years ago. Read and review. Learn something. Read it on your computer because I'm not recording this as a lecture.

-

Seriously though, I'm glad to see someone pointing out that this discussion throws disabled students under the bus, that it defines learning in a very narrow framework and covers the fact that lectures are terrible and only work well for people who can learn from auditory measures. (NOT me for example. I cannot. I mean literally that's part of my disability.) If the professor is talking and there are no visual notes to accompany this, nope, it won't stick. This is much more common than people think and it goes hand in hand with any number of other learning disabilities (ADHD, for example)

The only way I got through college was a laptop. Since I cannot learn from sound alone, a recorder would have done crap all for me except mean I had to spend an additional X time listening and taking notes. Since I have joint issues, I cannot handwrite for extended periods of time. (Yes, I've had people confront me on why I can type but not handwrite for hours at a time. You're not entitled to my medical history, and I will fight you on this.)

But the reason I bring my old ask-mefi link here is that professors are human too, and therefore, some of them are shitty and bad people and discriminatory and shameful and will call people out for being 'the disabled student' by stating that only people with disabilities can use laptops.

If our answer to "omg people don't learn in this one specific way well with a laptop" continues to be "OMG LAPTOPS ARE BAD" then we're going to fail to include people with disabilities. If our response isn't "wait, WHY?" or "Maybe there's a problem with our entire educational system being so goddamn based on auditory lectures" we're going to fail entire percentages of students who don't. Learn. that way.
posted by FritoKAL at 11:25 AM on November 28 [30 favorites]


It's not clear to me why the difference couldn't be something as simple as the fact that people are generally still more acclimated to taking notes longhand.
Eh. I never took notes in high school, practically raised myself on the internet during late adolescence, and still found it necessary to take notes by hand sometimes in university.
Had those students ever been taught how to use a computer to take notes, as opposed to transferring their grade-school instructions about "how to take notes on paper" to digital on their own?
...you had "how to take notes" lessons in grade school?
posted by inconstant at 11:26 AM on November 28


I had a professor in law school--whom students disliked but whose class people got a lot out of and recommended--who banned perfume and laptops in the first five rows (unless it was an accommodation) and would throw you out of class if your computer made a noise (such as those boot-up chimes). I absolutely adored being able to sit in the front five rows without being distracted by keyboard noise or screens or "surreptitious" games.

I know everyone learns differently and I know people use or need tools differently. That's great! Hooray! But taking notes on laptops never works for me. Being able to write timed exams on a computer? My grades improved notably when that came along.

It's interesting.
posted by crush at 11:28 AM on November 28 [8 favorites]


Also, how to take notes and how to study were things I had to be taught in law school, never having needed to do either to make A's in classes until that point. I know I am not alone in this.

It's one of the problems inherent to one-size classrooms and one-size lesson plans. Some kids don't need to be taught to learn until they get past grade school, or high school, and some do. And we don't all learn the same way.
posted by crush at 11:30 AM on November 28 [5 favorites]


...you had "how to take notes" lessons in grade school?

Sort of. We had "take notes and hand them in for a grade" assignments.

We had "make an outline" assignments - and it's different doing so on paper. (Computer is easier! ... If you're aware of the program and know how to indent, how to move parts around, how to get A B C and I II II prefixes, and so on.)

Some of the best note-taking training I got was "we're going to have a test next week, and you can keep and use your notes." So I had incentive to take good notes, and I took extensive notes - and figuring out what showed up on the test vs what I'd written and didn't, helped me figure out how to synthesize what I was hearing into better note taking.

But the methods I used for paper note-taking don't work on a computer - I can't draw a line between Section 1 and Section 3; I can't circle the keywords (I can highlight them but that's distracting); I can't place Page 1 in easy view so I know what's already covered while I'm working on Page 3.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:35 AM on November 28 [3 favorites]


I'm 34 and in college. Non-traditional student, didn't show up to class when I was 18 and stupid, blah blah blah. Ivy League school (because I work there, not because I can afford it).

I also just finished up a class in which laptops were banned.

Banning laptops really, really blows. For so many reasons, not the least of which that yes, college students are adults.

Also, I broke my right elbow a couple of years ago and it never really healed quite right - I still have occasional pain and tightness in the elbow, which is exacerbated hugely and almost immediately by handwriting stuff. Typing doesn't bother me. The result is that I basically didn't take notes this entire class. I printed out the readings and used a highlighter on the parts the professor covered in the lecture to mark them as "important" to myself for review, but no notes to speak of.

Could I have approached the professor and asked for an exception? Probably. But then I'd be embarrassed as hell. Nothing compared to a real disability, but I do get a fair amount of weird looks and ageist questions being a mid-30s undergrad. The last thing I want to do is admit that I need privileges because of my shitty old elbow.

I don't really have a good point here I guess other than to say that laptops are fine, get over it, and students that screw around and flunk out as a result can always try again 15 years later.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:41 AM on November 28 [17 favorites]


Lazaruslong, recurring muscle issues -is- a real disability. (Mine's similar, but for the fingers on my left hand, broke some, didn't heal right, now if I hold anything tightly for more than about 30 minutes my hand goes on strike)
posted by FritoKAL at 11:44 AM on November 28 [11 favorites]


Hey fair enough, and I'm sorry if my personal assessment minimized the real effect that recurring muscle issues have on folks' lives. I have a tendency to downplay / minimize my own stuff, working on that with my therapist, but you're totally right, and I'm sorry you're in a similar boat.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:46 AM on November 28 [6 favorites]


This is just a bit strange for me, I don't remember this being a thing even when students had laptops in the early 2010's. In many of my STEM courses it was literally 100% usage of notebook and pencil/pen. At the worst it was scribbling out printouts of the lecturer's PowerPoint slides. Computers were fine in project meetings but not for lectures and I think people just intuitively knew that somehow without having to be told (and telling people to do a thing is often problematic from a modern pedagogical standpoint).
posted by polymodus at 11:51 AM on November 28 [1 favorite]


While fully acknowledging that the laptop was a distraction, and that I definitely dicked around online during some lectures, my immediate reaction to being unable to take notes on a laptop is a big nooooooooo :( It was just so much faster, and less painful! I mean less physically painful: taking notes by hand, at speed, could and did become physically painful for me, and it could be hard to keep up with a lecture. I'm sure my timed essays would have improved a ton too if I could have typed them (with the wifi turned off, obviously). The sheer physical limitation of how fast I could write definitely made a lot of my essays sloppier (in execution and content) than they would have otherwise been. There was no way in hell I ever would have asked for an accommodation for this though. It would have felt like whining or making much of nothing, since I didn't have a specific physical problem.

Also, it's not like there are no distractions with just pen and paper. Doodling is a thing, and my and many others' handwritten notes have always had plenty of that.

All that said, I do still take notes for my job, and I do it by hand. If I'm observing in a deposition, I'm not there to transcribe word for word, that's the court reporter's job,and we'll get a transcript later. I'm there to make note of important/interesting things, and my notes are solely for me. They're messy as hell, illegible to anyone else, and for the sole purpose of being able to go back and say "hey, the deponent said this, what does that mean for this?" or "I thought it was weird that the deponent said this" or "they contradicted themselves here and here."

You need to know what your notes are for, and take them accordingly. I think a lot of students unfortunately think notes are for getting down every. single. thing. a professor or teacher says, and so they take way more notes than necessary. But you don't have to do that, and shouldn't. The facts are going to be there in your reading! You're in lecture for the context and the analysis, take notes on that. Really, I wish more professors offered their slides or outlines in advance, so that students could listen a little more closely, relieved of the pressure to write down every single point.
posted by yasaman at 11:53 AM on November 28 [4 favorites]


I am of two minds with this. I have ADHD but could never ever use a laptop in a classroom unless the wifi card was removed and every program except for word processing and some kind of slide making app were uninstalled. Seeing screens in front of me is incredibly distracting. I suppose I would need to sit in the first row if I went back to college. At the same time, beyond throwing disabled people under the bus, this fails to accommodate for different learning styles. There are some people (probably more than when I was in school) who think better through a computer than pen and paper. My first thought was to have an official note taker for every class- a paid position who would sit with a laptop off to the back and side and take notes on the lecture. But the process of transcribing notes is how I learn best in any classroom setting. You cannot demand faraday cages for the classrooms because people may need to receive emergency calls on cellphones.

I suppose you could have a set of inexpensive, quiet laptops that could be checked out. Get enough for maybe 3/4 of the students. They would not have wifi and would not have any games on them. They could be physically connected to a wired jack to copy information off of them when needed. Because I can completely see that having a laptop being used for non-productive purposes in class would not only harm the learning of the user but also all those behind them. And forcing people to sit in the back because they need/want a computer would discriminate against those with bad enough eyesight that they need to sit closer.

I don't know. I know I would hate to be in a class where most people were using laptops. At the same time, I've used accessibility options (mostly using a computer for a hand-written test) that I would not deprive anyone of.

The best solution - end lectures, hire enough professors and give them small enough classrooms that they can actually see if people are taking notes or not is probably a non-starter. But I am seeing this as a symptom of the current academic system.
posted by Hactar at 12:05 PM on November 28 [5 favorites]


Recall seems to work best when integrated with spatial memory. I wonder if that accounts for some of the advantages of longhand note-taking—the longhander consciously places concepts in a delimited physical space, while a typist feeds them into a white void of arbitrary dimensions.

(Computer note-taking doesn't have to be that way, of course. You could design a text entry program with strong, consistent spatial representation: ie, one screen always equals one page. You're encouraged to enter information in short chunks, which you must then place deliberately in a zone of the page.)
posted by Iridic at 12:06 PM on November 28 [10 favorites]


[Several comments deleted, please flag things people.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:06 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


Repeat after me. "Memorizing is not learning. Memorizing is not learning. Memorizing is not learning."
posted by FritoKAL at 12:09 PM on November 28 [6 favorites]


The note taking thing is so alien to me. Even having a pen a paper served more as a distraction than aid for getting the most out of lectures. While I'm sure there are courses that might be so loaded with facts to memorize that aren't available outside the lectures, for the classes I had I always found just watching and listening closely to the professor and, when allowed, asking questions worked best. I understand of course that isn't true for everyone, but engaged listening always worked well for me.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:10 PM on November 28


I learned long ago that I acquire information best if I do preparatory reading ahead of lecture, enhance my notes from that reading using lecture information, and then summarizing my notes or even rewriting them during a study period. Easy peasy, done and dusted.

But when I went back to school it was incredibly obnoxious to see a sea of laptops in front of me playing YT videos, browser games, chat apps, facebook, etc. etc. It was distracting, especially moving images. I don't know how you solve that problem without requiring all laptop users to sit in the back, which might cause accessibility issues for some disabled students.
posted by xyzzy at 12:11 PM on November 28 [10 favorites]


Repeat after me. "Memorizing is not learning. Memorizing is not learning. Memorizing is not learning."

On the other hand, neither is just ad-libbing another take on your personal opinions. I hear undergrad students bitching about courses where they are expected to "regurgitate", as they like to say, information, and I kind of want to ask them, don't you think there may be some limited validity to requiring you to actually learn some facts? Belgium did not invade Germany?
posted by thelonius at 12:16 PM on November 28 [32 favorites]


I'm actually planning to use this article next semester, when my class has a discussion about evaluating claims in the media. I'm almost 100% sure that some will insist they take better notes on the computer, which will lead to (a) discussing individual variation versus group trends
Maybe those professors who ban laptops should take that class. It's totally possible that if average grades go up when laptops are banned, laptops are still beneficial for say 20% of students. If a professor would ban laptop use citing as a reason that studies have shown that ON AVERAGE grades in classes are higher when laptops are banned, I would think that that professor is either not very bright or not a good professor. Apparently that professor does not understand the concept of average, or, perhaps worse, doesn't care about individual students at all whatsoever and is only focused on average grades for their class. Both are bad.
posted by blub at 12:23 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


Even during my time in college as Powerpoint became standard for lecture presentation I cherished my professors who still used the chalkboard. Seeing how the professor developed a solution or presented a theory was as valuable as writing it down myself.

(As an adult who has friends who are professors, I totally understand how much easy PowerPoint makes their lives though.)


PowerPoint! There's a topic I have opinions about.

Here's the thing with PowerPoint. As used by most instructors in most lectures that I've seen. PowerPoint sucks. It actively makes the material less interesting by presenting it as a series of bullet-pointed factoids to hold on to. The instructor often winds up reading through them more or less verbatim, stopping here and there to elaborate. It's almost the worst possible model for an engaging presentation. What PowerPoint ought to do is intrigue, capture attention, clarify difficult concepts with charts and illustrations. It ought to be 90% images and 10% text. It should make students perk up as each new slide is revealed. Instead it kills their souls with each advance of the "write these ten things down" machine. Every textbook my department has adopted for a decade comes with supplemental PPT slides for instructors and every single one of them is terrible, even the ones about effective visual communication. There's a wonderful irony to reading a PowerPoint slide that purports to explain the principles of visual communication while violating every point it presents.

If students need the material presented as key items in a list, then do that on paper, photocopy it, and make it available as a handout. Encourage them to underline, circle, and highlight as you go, while scribbling insights in the blank spaces. And then fire up their imaginations with PowerPoint. It's a presentation tool and is not supposed to be a lecture outline on a screen.

PowerPoint could be great in college, but it's usually not, and I'm convinced that if PowerPoint didn't exist the average effectiveness of college lectures would increase measurably.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:23 PM on November 28 [21 favorites]


Hactar: I have ADHD but could never ever use a laptop in a classroom unless the wifi card was removed and every program except for word processing and some kind of slide making app were uninstalled.

This reminds me of an AskMe where someone was looking for exactly that sort of device. Something called the AlphaSmart was the most common answer.
posted by clawsoon at 12:23 PM on November 28


Repeat after me. "Memorizing is not learning. Memorizing is not learning. Memorizing is not learning."

*rolls eyes*

It's the first, simplest, building block to learning. You cannot use facts to solve a problem if you have no pool of facts to draw from. You cannot analyze the causes of a war if you have no pool of facts to draw from. You cannot draw conclusions and analyze a work a fiction if you do not know what happened in that work of fiction.
posted by Groundhog Week at 12:27 PM on November 28 [49 favorites]


it was incredibly obnoxious to see a sea of laptops in front of me playing YT videos, browser games, chat apps, facebook, etc. etc.

That problem needs a lot more attention than the "paper vs keyboard for notes" issue. Universities might consider offering heavily-restricted internet: no games sites, no facebook, no youtube (iffy, because there are academic uses for that), etc. It wouldn't end all the playing-instead-of-learning problems, but it'd reduce them.

Being able to provide limited (whitelisted sites only) access in classrooms would be ideal, but that's more complicated.

Providing "blackout desks" for laptop students might help - if you want a laptop, you get a desk with a box that keeps most of the other students from seeing it and being distracted. (That might be as simple as a pair of side walls on the desk.)

But hey! If net neutrality dies, this problem might go away on its own - universities just won't buy the package with facebook, instagram, twitter, and pinterest.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:29 PM on November 28 [3 favorites]


I think it is important to critique the use of lecture material retention, on the basis that the researchers risk conflating learning with a particular quantifiable metric for learning.

For example, radical educators don't even agree with the premise of the lecture format, period. And so this is stuff that's ongoingly discussed and considered in the field of education psychology. In contrast, news pieces like this get eyeballs/attention by creating controversy, and that's something people can be mindful of (by critically understanding how the news presents complex issues). There's a spectrum of divergence, and part of the problem is whether different stakeholders recognize the differing concerns and perspectives on something like this. Like, do you accept the status quo and improve things by getting students to put away supposedly inferior tools? Or can mass education be more personalized and individualized with an eye to social progress and also the political dimensions of education institutions? Both approaches are important.
posted by polymodus at 12:32 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


"I hear undergrad students bitching about courses where they are expected to "regurgitate", as they like to say, information, and I kind of want to ask them, don't you think there may be some limited validity to requiring you to actually learn some facts? Belgium did not invade Germany?"

See, my previous statement is particularly true when you speak about history. "Belgium invaded Germany" may be a fact, and yes, that is a valuable thing to know. However, if all you are providing is "Belgium invaded Germany" then you are doing students a disservice.

However, lets say you present your students with a statement "Belgium did not invade Germany during World War 10". And you ask them to verify this - is it true? If it's true, why? If it's not true, what happened? Set them on research, set them on reporting on this (verbally or visually, whatever suites them best).

(It is true, Germany invaded Belgium, which I
(choose 1)
a) did not know until now
b) vaguely sort of remembered from middle school but not in any sort of valuable way
c) looked up on wikipedia
d) fell down the WWI was WAY more interesting than a vomited series of facts presented to me in 7th grade would have let me to believe wikipedia rabbit hole
e) A and C, plus D in an hour or so.
posted by FritoKAL at 12:34 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


You can't learn concepts in a vacuum. You need to know some facts first, then you can explore how these facts relate, how one fact is a consequence of some other facts, and then start to get a bird's-eye-view of how those types of facts tend to relate and start extrapolating to other facts, etc. But some memorization is 100% required for learning to be effective. Also see: vocabulary.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:38 PM on November 28 [3 favorites]


"It's the first, simplest, building block to learning. You cannot use facts to solve a problem if you have no pool of facts to draw from. You cannot analyze the causes of a war if you have no pool of facts to draw from. You cannot draw conclusions and analyze a work a fiction if you do not know what happened in that work of fiction."

Sure I can, I can do all those things without having to remember a week from now that Germany invaded Belgium on 4 August 1915. Or even that Germany invaded Belgium. Sure if I want to do it without having to look up the same information I should probably memorize that, especially if I want to not have to correct mistaken facts in my head, but the first building block to learning is getting correct information, not memorizing information.

Memorizing is memorizing. It is a different process than evaluating information. Memorizing makes things faster. It's valuable, I never said it was useless.

But it is not learning, and memorizing alone does not provide comprehension. It is a piece, but it's not the whole of it, and we value it above almost all other parts of learning to the detriment of many.
posted by FritoKAL at 12:41 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


I work at a large public university (as an instructional technologist hey-o!) and took an introductory undergraduate course a couple years ago (fulfilled a gen ed requirement, at the 0050 level). The behavior of most of the students in that class was not really that of adults because... well, most of them weren't. College Freshmen are 17-18 years old. There were students in that class (enrollment was capped at 50, so not big enough that anyone was able to anonymously hide in the back row) who never took their headphones off during class, ever. And, like, I remember having all kinds of wild notions about how I studied best that were not based on any empirical evidence gathered from my own performance whatsoever but rather just what I'd like to be true. As an adult, I now realize that I cannot read in the same room that a TV is playing, and I can't do anything involving language while listening to music with lyrics in a language I can comprehend. As a teenager? "Gawd, mom, I just study better while watching 120 Minutes!!!"

In my department, we're about 50/50 people with notebooks/people with laptops. I think sometimes people are surprised that several of as are so "low tech." Both my bosses use notebooks. I use a notebook. I draw diagrams and arrows and circle things and cross things out and make bullets and I have to use paper to do that. There are other folks on my team who use OneNote super effectively, and more power to them. I've tried, but I can't. Typing just makes things exit my brain as soon as the words are on the screen.

I don't think laptops should be banned in classrooms. I do think that college students should have more opportunities to learn how they learn best and put that into practice.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:44 PM on November 28 [18 favorites]




no youtube (iffy, because there are academic uses for that), etc

I love YouTube because it's been a treasure trove of lectures, talks, seminars that I otherwise wouldn't bother to find out about. It's really great for more casual learning and listening, you don't have the overhead of say, trying to use Coursera.
posted by polymodus at 12:51 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


FK, nobody here is going to argue in favor of an over-reliance on rote memorization as the primary measure of comprehension. Clearly comprehension and fact-parroting are not the same.

But! Had you not memorized all of the words you are using to rail against memorization, well, you wouldn't be able to rail at all. And you wouldn't be able to look up the words you needed, either. As a musician in an orchestra I'm not of much use if I haven't memorized where the various notes are on the treble clef. Etc. Etc. Even recently I've had to use my phone to look up French horn fingerings because I forgot them, to my detriment as a performer.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:52 PM on November 28 [4 favorites]


I don't think the argument is that memorization is bad in general? Just that testing what students remember from a lecture does not measure learning. I often don't remember things from a lecture. When professors do a kahoot, I often notice that I have forgotten even basic things. And I always take notes by hand. But I do make a lot of notes, and I don't even attempt to learn those things while I'm in class. My focus in class is to make good notes, and to see if I understand the things the professor is explaining. I learn facts after I go over my notes, worked with them, made assignments, etc.
posted by blub at 1:08 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


Maybe those professors who ban laptops should take that class. It's totally possible that if average grades go up when laptops are banned, laptops are still beneficial for say 20% of students [...]

This reads as pretty passive-aggressive to me, but you know what: I would be thrilled if a student made that argument, because it showed some basic statistical literacy. If they didn't, I'd guide them toward that realization.

I'd also be thrilled if a student brought up the issue of fairness to individual students, because it shows that they're critically evaluating the pros and cons of a policy. If they didn't, I'd guide them toward considering that question.

In my classes, evaluating a claim is not as simple as "is this result trash and these scientists terrible at their jobs," it's what kinds of conclusions can be drawn and what can't, what we do with those conclusions, etc.

doesn't care about individual students at all whatsoever

This is an incredibly uncharitable interpretation.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:13 PM on November 28 [5 favorites]


From TFA:
But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.
Let people use laptops. But have the laptoppers sit on one side of the room, where they can distract themselves and one another and get lower grades, and have the scribblers sit on the other side.
posted by pracowity at 1:22 PM on November 28 [6 favorites]


This seems to be conflating typing with internet access. I took notes on my palmtop in high school in the early 1990s. But of course I didn't have any kind of wireless internet access, so it was just a typing and storage device. Same with early laptops I had, back when internet access generally meant plugging in to a phone line.

I can't write more than a couple lines of text without my hand cramping up very painfully. I can type all day (not without pain, to be fair, but its tolerable vs the intense pain of handwriting). I'm long past college, but if I somehow ended up in such a situation again I would not go somewhere laptops were banned. (And in lectures/talks related to work, I take notes on a computer).
posted by thefoxgod at 1:25 PM on November 28 [4 favorites]


So, I use an iPad with a Pencil to take notes, do homework, etc. An iPad does almost everything I would use a computer for and allows me to electronicially take notes in ways that are useful to me, such as easily allowing for a change in color/highlighting, grabbing an image from google that I can markup, switch between graph and lined paper. It lets me keep things organized and not have to worry about losing papers, making sure I have the correct notebook, etc. I can pull up tabs in Safari to read later.

Would my iPad be considered a laptop or “paper and pencil”?

I have a host of learning disabilities; electronic resources are a godsend.
posted by chaostician at 1:32 PM on November 28 [6 favorites]


I absolutely remember better when I write things out, for all the reasons already mentioned, but I chose to take all of my college notes on a laptop because it was better for me in every other way.

I use OneNote, and being able to search through my notes quickly, across classes, was invaluable. For instance, I took notes on a certain author my freshman year. I took another class with the same professor later and they referenced the author. I was able to pull up my prior notes in seconds and read/remember/connect the key things we'd talked about.

Now I use OneNote as a more curated reference for tidbits of information that may get buried in email or no have no natural home. I have a page on my boss which reminds me of their pet peeves and that they like white chocolate and all the tips they've given me. I remember most of them, but having a quick reference is handy especially on days when I'm frazzled.
posted by matrixclown at 1:33 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


They do seem to be using "internet device" as the contrast with "notes on paper." When they mention using tablets, they don't specify whether that's with a stylus or the onscreen keyboard, nor what app was being used.

They also aren't bothering to check for selection bias: how many of the students randomly assigned laptops as notes devices, had no experience with using a laptop for notes? Everyone has some practice with paper notes; not everyone has used a keyboard device.

I'd love to see more studies where they allow students to use their preferred device, and compare those results. (There's still problems; more low-performing students are going to insist they prefer laptops. But there's a big difference between "C students prefer laptops" and "students who use laptops get Cs.")
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:33 PM on November 28 [5 favorites]


Unfortunately, I think one of my comments was collateral damage in a deletion. I want to ask a question that I think is relevant though:

After reading some of the comments in this thread, I wouldn't ban laptops in a class where note-taking was important. In the class I'm teaching now, that's not true; it's discussion based and all the "content" is available in handouts and in readings. Students don't generally take notes anyway, and the quality of discussion does genuinely suffer when half of your students are distracted. I can't compete with the glowing skinner box that's giving them constant little hits of dopamine. I don't think that makes me a bad lecturer; I think that's an unrealistic standard. There were people who couldn't stop checking their phones when I went to see Thor.

But is there a solution to the issue of

(a) guiding inexperienced students toward better study practices

(b) keeping students who are playing games/messaging/shopping/etc from distracting others

... that doesn't involve disadvantaging disabled students? B

Banning laptops from the front rows kind of addresses (b), but still means that students who need laptops have to sit further away. Dividing the room in half also kind of addresses (b), but works better in bigger classrooms than in smaller ones.

Neither of these addresses (a). In theory, I am all for "treat students like adults," but the reality is that this year I'm teaching freshmen who often make bad choices. Self-motivation and discipline isn't just something you have because you have a good character; it's a skill and a habit. It's not their fault if they haven't had to practice yet.

Like, if I thought it was fair to rely completely on their self-discipline--the "harsh wake up call" model of turning them into adults--then I'd say let's get rid of all graded work except for final assessments. I don't like grading homework. But one of the reasons for assigning graded work throughout the semester is to provide motivation and structure to students who aren't that good at that yet. If practice was optional, a lot of them wouldn't do it even though they needed to, and their grades would suffer.

In general my experience is that lower-level classes have more policies aimed at promoting good study practices than upper-level ones, and I think this is ...reasonable?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:35 PM on November 28 [14 favorites]


In general my experience is that lower-level classes have more policies aimed at promoting good study practices than upper-level ones, and I think this is ...reasonable?

I wish I could go back in time and drop a copy of 'How to Study in College' for myself because my parental units sure didn't help since most of their teachings re work ethic was a fist or a scream.

I think stuff like good study habits are reasonable insofar as you're explicitly saying 'hey so I know you did fine in high school but most high schools just teach you to repeat stuff, we're here to teach you how to think, now here's a guide on how to study/write/prep in college because, trust me, you're gonna need it'.

Similarly, I wish someone had pointed me to a mental health counselor early on because I didn't realize back then that I had a combo of persistent depression and generalized anxiety disorder and, those things now having been controlled, my ability to self-study and commit to learning some particular facet of knowledge in relation to myself, critically, is suddenly much better.

Conversations about laptops or not seem to elide the point that we don't teach kids how to study well or at all so we look for obvious solutions to poor grades (no eye contact? glowing screens? must be MILLENIALS!) . I'd love to see a study of a college that mandates a course that integrates basic life and academic skills early into the curricula, before you're thrown into the deep end of 20 page essays and long nights in the library and how well those students do on median.
posted by runt at 1:42 PM on November 28 [6 favorites]


I'll be teaching a first-year physics course to Bachelor of Information Technology students starting on January 8. Does anyone here have any experience taking physics notes (or math) on a laptop? I'm convinced it's impossible, because of the equations and diagrams that the note-taker has to be able to draw, but am willing to be convinced otherwise by someone with direct personal experience.
posted by heatherlogan at 2:02 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


Well, many laptops these days have pen / touchscreen input that makes drawing as easy as typing (especially the convertible ones with a pen, like a Pixelbook).

That said, I took math notes on a palmtop/laptop with just ASCII text (you just need a system for how you transcribe things).
posted by thefoxgod at 2:11 PM on November 28


I always took paper notes in math classes, because I couldn't handle "translating" symbols to their ASCII equivalents and keep up with the class at the same time. Too many symbols!

I tried an iPad, but at the time writing on an iPad was pretty disappointing. I'd probably a newer tablet if I was still taking those classes, though. I also find using an iPad less distracting than using a laptop, because switching between programs or windows is a different experience, and I don't find myself reflexively doing it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:24 PM on November 28


heatherlogan: I took notes for a couple of math classes (analysis out of Rudin, representation theory) in LaTeX on my laptop. It actually worked really well: the classes were very word-heavy (as many sentences as equations in those proofs, and very very few diagrams), and I can type much faster than I can hand-write, so I could think about things rather than scrambling to catch up with my note-taking.

Having said that, my guess is that (1) a physics class (especially freshman non-major physics) is going to be a lot more equation-heavy, and LaTeXing equations is just unavoidably way slower than hand-writing them, and (2) your freshman IT students aren't going to be proficient enough with LaTeX to take notes in it in real time. (This is before we even talk about diagrams.)

I have friends (physics grad students & postdocs) who take notes in talks etc. with styli on their tablets, and it seems to work pretty well for them.
posted by golwengaud at 2:24 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


There was one grad student in my physics program who did use LaTeX to take notes, and they were a thing of wonder, but he was a very fast typist and had to know the codes for all the symbols really well. It's doable, but maybe not advisable for most people. Especially not 1st year non physics people. Most people used pencil and paper.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:36 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


I'm a college student (in fact, I'm skipping lecture right now! I actually think my professor gives great lectures, but they always move at lightning speed, and it's always a nightmare to take good notes. I'm way too tired to deal with that today. I'll just read the dang book).

I've never taken a class that banned laptops outright (and I've even had professors say that they won't ban them because students with disabilities might need them, and they don't want to single anyone out). I have, however, heard almost every professor ask that you not do anything distracting on your computer or phone, because not only will it be distracting for you, but it'll be distracting for everyone around you. This obviously sinks in, because I have never seen someone doing something distracting on their computer.

Ha ha.

In principle I have no problem with laptops in classrooms and lecture halls, but in practice, they're a huge problem. Every classroom asks people not to distract everyone else, but people always see themselves as the exception to the rule. The overwhelming majority of people are doing incredibly distracting stuff on their computers and phones all the time. If they aren't outright ignoring the lecture to shop online or something, they're switching back and forth between their notes and Facebook, or a chat window with friends, etc. Bad students do it, and good students do it too. A couple weeks ago the guy next to me was laughing at a YouTube video as if I and everyone around him couldn't hear, and he wasn't the first. It's a nightmare.

I have major attention problems, and it takes very little to completely throw me off. Seeing something bright and flashy, like a YouTube video right in front of me, is more than enough to draw my eyes away from the professor. I hate it so, so much. This kind of environment is actively detrimental to my education, and probably to theirs, and there is nothing I can do to escape it except sit in the front row and hope the person next to me isn't surfing the web.

I don't think it's a matter of treating people like adults, I think it's a basic fact that people of all ages are easily distracted and will do distracting stuff if it's available to them. There is no classroom (or meeting, or event, etc.) where some people are taking notes by hand or some are taking notes on laptops. The reality is that there are classrooms where some people are taking notes by hand, some on laptops, and a bunch of people are dicking around on the internet. It's a very real problem, and I think it has a much bigger effect on the learning environment than whether someone retains stuff better if they type or handwrite their notes.

I don't know what the solution is, because asking people to do the right thing doesn't work; people will be wildly inconsiderate no matter what. Banning laptops doesn't work, because some people need them. I don't even think reducing class sizes helps all that much, because I've seen this in small classes, too. How do you accommodate everyone?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:39 PM on November 28 [13 favorites]


Define "substantially worse". That's a very fuzzy term. These studies may have found that learning was significantly worse, meaning statistically significant differences were found.

Not sure they found meaningful differences.
posted by etherist at 2:40 PM on November 28


The other thing about banning anything from a university classroom is that unlike K12 schools, professors don't have any custodial authority over students and don't have the legal authority to make them do anything. The most you can do is ask someone to leave, which might or might not fall into power that the contracts between student and university give you, or failing that to call the cops to remove someone for using a laptop or whatever.

Which is to say that I'm not willing to make a rule that I'd be unwilling to see cops beat the shit out of a black student over an argument that started with it.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:58 PM on November 28 [3 favorites]


This is an incredibly uncharitable interpretation.
It's also a bit uncharitable to only quote this part of my sentence out of context I think, and to read my sentence which I meant as a positive remark on your course as passive aggressive. But you're right, not at all whatsoever was perhaps a bit over the top. Still, my point remains that if they banned laptops with the justification that that's better for the average student then they either don't understand averages, or don't care about individual students for whom laptops work better.
posted by blub at 3:02 PM on November 28


Still, my point remains that if they banned laptops with the justification that that's better for the average student then they either don't understand averages, or don't care about individual students for whom laptops work better.

You still think those are the only two options?

By that same reasoning, I could accuse you of not caring about individual students who do better in a classroom without laptops--but I don't think that's fair to you. For example, I imagine that you're sympathetic to the student who just commented about her attention problems means that when people use laptops near her, her own learning is affected. You've just weighed the conflicting needs of the students in a classroom, and decided that it's most fair to accommodate the students who need laptops without singling them out.

I agree that's most fair, at least in the type of lecture course that was studied here. But coming to a different conclusion means you're wrong (in our opinion), not that you don't care.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:30 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


The other thing about banning anything from a university classroom is that unlike K12 schools, professors don't have any custodial authority over students and don't have the legal authority to make them do anything

I'd have to dig up the syllabi, but I'm pretty sure most of my courses followed "participation grade" rubrics which docked serious points for disruptive and distracting behavior. The professors may not have had custodial authority over us, but the ability to dent a GPA did grant them some leverage. (Admittedly, those classes were usually on the smaller side and fairly easy to police.)
posted by Iridic at 3:32 PM on November 28


I'd like to see a study comparing pen note takers with those who use slick fountain pens, either piston-filled or converted, writing in boss ink choices like Pilot Iroshizuku Asagao or Sailor Jentle Shigure. Do we take better notes out of sheer pleasure or do we get distracted by how joyously blue our writing is, or how it's so purple, it's almost black!

Also normal pencil users vs. Palomino Blackwing writers. Who takes better notes?

Don't even get me started on which paid apps the laptop/tablet users are rocking.
What I'm saying is, how can this study pretend to be scientific if it isn't geared toward selling luxury goods, in this most important of holiday seasons. It's this month's most wonderful time of the year!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:52 PM on November 28 [8 favorites]


I went thru uni (landscape architecture + ecology) handwriting all my notes, in my own unique style with lots of shortcuts, math symbols etc., plus margin scribbles and thumbnail sketches. I still write reports out by hand before 'typing' them up as it's much faster in the long run.

I cant find it but am sure I read once that since we've been drawing/writing by hand for tens of millennia that there are mental/brain pathways based around the back and forth hand-eye-brain system that are lacking with a keyboard. I tend to go with that and it seems to work for me - I have great recall from having handwritten something, even if I never read it again.

I can imagine tho' that such pathways could develop in an individual who has to use a keyboard thru some disability. Bans don't tend to favour innovation or adaptation either technically or culturally but banning in all its forms seems to be gaining traction again
posted by unearthed at 3:57 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


I ask students to leave a semi-circle at the front of the classroom a few rows back (maybe half the seats) free of any screen use so there can be a distraction free zone. They seem to get it. What many dont realize is it's painfully obvious even from the front of the class which students are taking notes on a laptop and which are surfing. If your fingers aren't moving but your staring at the screen and your forearm is moving then you are doing something else.

Anyway, I sometimes do teaching peer-reviews. The most notable was a colleague who was doing everything by the modern book: using an iClicker thing, stopping every ten minutes so students could discuss with their neighbour, showing a 3 minute video, mixing it up and down and all over. Sitting at the back, every single time one of these break from lecturing came, I could see virtually every student with a laptop go onto facebook or whatever, and half the students who weren't using their phones would pick them up and do something. And each time, after she started lecturing, the students would lag behind by two or three minutes in refocusing on her lectures. It was a real eye opener. These "best practices" to maintain attention actually disrupted it far more than you'd imagine.

And I think she was objectively and excellent lecturer - funny, provocative, clever, clear. But the siren song of social media and screenspace was overwhelming to at least half the class.
posted by Rumple at 4:18 PM on November 28 [14 favorites]


I make my students absorb lectures through osmosis
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:23 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see a study comparing pen note takers with those who use slick fountain pens, either piston-filled or converted, writing in boss ink choices like Pilot Iroshizuku Asagao or Sailor Jentle Shigure. Do we take better notes out of sheer pleasure or do we get distracted by how joyously blue our writing is, or how it's so purple, it's almost black!

Ha, I actually got a couple fountain pens* earlier this semester after my wrist kept tiring out, and I think I do take better notes out of sheer pleasure, and I do also sometimes get distracted by the color of my ink. Really, the only downside has been feeling super self-conscious and imagining that I look like a total jerk to everyone around me because I'm Mr. Fancy using a fountain pen to take notes. Not to mention feeling like a consumer tool, but whatever! I like my pens.

* I have Pilot Metropolitans with F and M nibs, and I use Noodler's Black and Noodler's 54th Massachussetts ink.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:30 PM on November 28 [3 favorites]


I want to see some studies about differential retention rates between people who write notes and people who PRINT like a CHILD.
posted by Justinian at 5:00 PM on November 28


My first year of undergrad I took all of my notes on a chromebook in google docs. I got very good at writing calculus formulas in docs. My second year I switched to taking notes by hand on an iPad using a stylus in an app that could also record audio. The best part is that you could play back the audio and it would also "play" what you were writing at the time. The focus on laptops as the end all be all of technology in the classroom seems pretty silly to me. I also usually had a laptop that I would have open to do quick google searches of thing I didn't quite understand.
posted by runcibleshaw at 6:30 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


A couple people now have mentioned needing to use laptops to look stuff up, but is there a problem with writing something down and looking it up later? That's an honest question. I mean, is there a pedagogical problem with it?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:41 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


For me taking notes by hand and drawing diagrams on large index cards is the best way to understand and solve problems. I had a classmate who would secretly record lectures and then play them back at 2x or 3x speed a few times. Never took notes and it worked out for them.

I like spreading the notes on a desk and getting a bird's eye view of my mental landscape. I love being able to rearrange the cards until it all makes sense. Then I copy the end result by hand to a notebook.

I have so many fountain pens, pencils, brush pens, etc... in my bag that I always get secondary inspection at the airport if I forget to take them out.

Taking notes on a laptop does not work the same way for me.

Many years ago at work I was asked to present evidence of my work for a performance review, because I had so few Google docs stuff. My management chain emphatically did not appreciate my boxes full of index cards and my stack of notebooks.

What I am trying to say is that it would be great if schools had a class dedicated just to experiencing different ways of learning and helping students find what works best for them.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 6:43 PM on November 28


But the siren song of social media and screenspace was overwhelming to at least half the class.

I kind of wonder if it would be worthwhile saying something like: You can use your laptop as long as you use an application like SelfControl to block social media during class. It's not enforceable, but I don't think a lot of students even know about these tools--or even know that they're as distracted as they are. It could be worth just having a discussion about the problem and potential strategies (at least in freshman-level classes).

I had to change my "if I catch you on your phone" policy to a "if I see your phone out of your bag" policy, because my students would reach for their phones out of reflex whenever there was a lull in activity. Most of them are pretty responsible, actually, but it's just such a reflex.

I don't really understand people who think that this is the lecturer's fault. I mean, personally, I have never been a heavy phone user and don't have a problem with leaving my phone alone. But I have students who talk about FOMO as a real problem for them and don't understand that you can wait to respond to a message. There's just no competition. And I also understand when I view it through the lens of my own distraction--I'm not a heavy phone user, but I am a heavy computer user, and am currently struggling myself to regain a lot of the focus I've lost.

Also: I often tell myself I'm just using my computer to look stuff up, and sometimes I legitimately am! That just doesn't happen to be useful nearly as often as I get distracted, though...
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:52 PM on November 28 [5 favorites]


The most notable was a colleague who was doing everything by the modern book: using an iClicker thing, stopping every ten minutes so students could discuss with their neighbour, showing a 3 minute video, mixing it up and down and all over. Sitting at the back, every single time one of these break from lecturing came, I could see virtually every student with a laptop go onto facebook or whatever, and half the students who weren't using their phones would pick them up and do something.

The thing is, these student-centered-learning techniques are not trivial to use. Hopefully with feedback and experience your colleague will start figuring out what's effective for them.

In my experience, you really can't just break and have students discuss things with their neighbors; you need to give them a task to do or a question to answer. And you need to be actively engaged in their answering it. They'll stay off their phones if they expect you to pop over their shoulder and start discussing the material. TAs can help here, too.

Also, I think video content is best assigned as something to engage with outside of class. That way the students have to choose when they're viewing it and they'll view it with some intentionality. And if it's the basis of a group exercise that will happen in the next class, they'll feel an obligation to take it seriously.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:09 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


The other thing about banning anything from a university classroom is that unlike K12 schools, professors don't have any custodial authority over students and don't have the legal authority to make them do anything.

Ha! Tell that to my engineering professor in 2004 who literally picked up a phone at the front of the classroom and dialed 911 because a student would not put away his laptop during a lecture. Same shitty prof who wasted 20 minutes of every 50 minute lecture taking attendance at a glacial pace. If I had a smartphone back then I would have absolutely have goofed off on it during those lectures. As it was, I spent a lot of time doing the crossword in the daily student newspaper.
posted by beandip at 7:15 PM on November 28


In my experience, you really can't just break and have students discuss things with their neighbors; you need to give them a task to do or a question to answer. And you need to be actively engaged in their answering it. They'll stay off their phones if they expect you to pop over their shoulder and start discussing the material. TAs can help here, too.

I'm not sure why you think "discuss with their neighbors" means this lecturer isn't giving them a task? In my experience, students will be distracted anyway. They'll try to do the task and check social media at the same time.

Also, you'd be surprised at how many students I catch on social media as I walk around the class while they do an activity. They either think they can close the tab quickly enough that I won't notice, or they've checked it out of reflex and my presence reminds them that oops! they were supposed to be doing something else.

I don't think that this is a problem a lecturer can fix. Ameliorate, yes--but I don't think that assuming that a lecturer whose students are on social media must be doing something "wrong" to lose their interest is realistic. The students are literally sitting in front of a glowing entertainment box that will give them a hit of dopamine if they click the right buttons. Even the best lecturers can't compete with that.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:32 PM on November 28 [5 favorites]


I never like being asked to discuss stuff with my neighbors. It may vary from school to school, but half the time the other person wasn't even paying attention, or didn't do the reading, and we end up chatting about random stuff until the time is up. It feels like one of those things that works great on paper, but doesn't account for the ways people actually behave.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:04 PM on November 28 [4 favorites]


My strategy as a lecturer has been to have a default no laptops policy, as well as extremely draconian default policies on lateness, attendance, paper submission, etc... but students can replace these default policies with whatever other policies best suit their lifestyles. Most of them recognize that they should hold their future selves accountable, so they stick with the defaults. Just having the option gives them autonomy over the rules, even if they don't change them. But plenty of others opt for laptops or a more lenient attendance policy (eg. a single mother who anticipates emergencies will want this), and that's fine. Because I don't require reasons, or evidence of anything like a disability, I don't think there's any felt stigma from the people who choose to keep their laptops.

On a tangential note, I was surprised when I first entered grad school that grad students in philosophy tend not to take any notes at all. If anything, there's a stigma against those who do. In retrospect, those courses were very much like the "flipped" classroom idea that's gained purchase in recent years. Students soak up information on their own, then get together to muddle through it. I don't think this can work for most undergrad courses --philosophy is probably the subject that can most do away with note-taking --but I still am attracted to the ideal that a student should be able to get through a course without ever having taken notes at all.
posted by painquale at 8:09 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]



One caveat: In many of these studies, "learning" seems to be defined rather narrowly as the ability to recall information from a lecture.


This was my argument as well back in the day... Just because I can't remember it doesn't mean I didn't LEARN anything. geez.
posted by some loser at 8:22 PM on November 28


It feels like one of those things that works great on paper, but doesn't account for the ways people actually behave.

So, my experience is that it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. But, at least in the class I'm teaching right now, it's there for a reason: If I don't give students the time to brainstorm their ideas for a discussion, the discussion will falter. Another way is to have them write their ideas down on a piece of paper, which I also sometimes do, but that has a downside, too. The less motivated students are even less likely to participate, and the more shy students don't get a chance to check their ideas with a peer before sharing them.

I mean, I get where you're coming from. It's kind of condescending and hand-holdy and when it doesn't work it's just a waste of your time. But as an instructor my attitudes have shifted because I really do see the difference in how the class goes. So, there's that.

I'm pretty new at this so maybe my attitudes will change again. What I'm pretty sure of is that there's no "perfect" way to teach a course, because students are too variable. The whole discussion about how to handle laptops is just one example.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:54 PM on November 28 [4 favorites]


I still recall the teacher in my graduate-level class at Fordham, in the fall of 1988, telling a student to sit in the back of the classroom if he wished to take notes on his laptop, since the sound of the keyboard might bother other students. Now it was 1988 and keyboards weren't as quiet as now, but a jackhammer it was not.

Count me on the "whatever works is good" train, in the "treat students as adults and let them make their own note-taking choices" car. Sheesh.
posted by datawrangler at 9:12 PM on November 28


My classroom is device free for note taking. When I made this change I actually had to cut my class back 30 full minutes each session because so many students were talking and discussing the material.

My week of class is 20% lecture (usually on 1 day) and 80% application of the material. I 'flip' my class so that they should have read/listened to a podcast/watched a video before class. My lecture is to bring in together and then we get into an application.

I do record my lectures so if people wish to review the material or type notes they are welcome to.

You, MeFites, are people interested in stuff. You like to read and write. You are fairly exceptional. You are not my students. They need help with study skills. Maybe the best students don't, but I promise you - the variance in college readiness is vast.

In my classes we often pull out devices for an activity but not for note taking. And, you may be surprised, but the students like not having their devices. Every term I ask about their feelings about not having devices and 95%+ say they appreciate it.

Fwiw, I've done this at both an Ivy and a high level public research university. Same result.
posted by k8t at 9:24 PM on November 28 [8 favorites]


Also fwiw, at least at my university, the accommodation of needing a laptop is almost unheard of.
A number of students have pen recorders to record the lecture. Many receive copies of the powerpoints before class as an accomodation. Extra time? Yes.
I checked in with disability services before having a no device policy and they assured me that it is very uncommon for a laptop to be needed.

I once had a student with a vision issue ask to have his laptop to view the PowerPoint text more closely. But once he got to the classroom he realized that it was a small room and it wasn't a problem. This student was not registered with disability services - and I know that there are reasons why students may not register - but there were other issues related to the viability issue where disability services could have helped greatly... Getting high contrast texts made before the class etc. Instead the student asked that I do this for them myself - while I have no expertise in doing this.
posted by k8t at 9:32 PM on November 28 [3 favorites]


If people don't come to your lectures unless they're compulsory, that means your lectures suck.

No, speaking as someone who's been doing this professoring gig for about 20 years now, I can say that sometimes my lectures suck and sometimes they're awesome, but students turn up or not based on the time of the class or the weather or whether or not they've been up all night cramming for an exam or whether they're working on a paper for another course or whether their kid is sick that day.

And if you make all the material available online, together with the primary source texts, there will always be a goodly cluster of students who simply won't come. At all. Ever. These are mostly the students who would happily buy a degree on the internet if there wasn't a stigma attached to that; these are the ones who know that learning things is a bore and unnecessary, because they already know everything worth knowing. Fortunately, if you make it essential to come to class, some of those students get infected with an interest in the subject and discover that this shit is really pretty cool, all things considered. And that's the point of doing this for a living.

I don't ban laptops, but they mostly tend to disappear from my classes over the course of the term, maybe because I don't use Powerpoint (I'm too fucking lazy to make goddamn slides and if lectures are terrible then Powerpoint lectures are horrendous) and don't circulate materials in advance (except the play, of course) and it's rather hard to transcribe my scribbled chalkboard charts and drawings and lists on a laptop.

But anything that helps focus and attention is good, and distractions are bad. And the internet is a mine of distractions.
posted by jrochest at 10:48 PM on November 28 [12 favorites]


Students soak up information on their own, then get together to muddle through it. I don't think this can work for most undergrad courses --philosophy is probably the subject that can most do away with note-taking --but I still am attracted to the ideal that a student should be able to get through a course without ever having taken notes at all.

This applies primarily to in-class note-taking, of course; many students do need to learn to take solid reading notes, not of the "content retention" type, but the "content processing" type. Otherwise, some students really do not "soak up" much of anything at all.

I teach composition at an open enrollment community college, one where the range of students' college-readiness varies wildly, especially as ideas like high school GPA-based placement ("multiple measures," but not applied holistically) and limiting prerequisites and corequisites to speed completion times have taken hold. Increasingly, I see students for whom fundamental content areas -- the style and grammar of formal writing, the ability to use a word processing program, adult vocabulary, and even a certain basic awareness of the contemporary issues that people authentically write about -- are brand new and very challenging.

Students come through the introductory composition classes for so many different reasons: transfer to a four-year, advancement for working professionals, earning college credit as advanced high school students, and a handful who are there because a caregiver has made it a condition of continuing to live at home.

Every one of them has a different relationship to technology. The college offers some students free laptops as part of financial aid, but also has a "no unauthorized use of electronic devices" policy. The composition classes meet in a computer lab. Some students use laptops and mobile devices very well; some have accommodations that require them; and others have real trouble with study skills and have trouble engaging with the instructors, with readings, and with other students for learning tasks.

For students who already self-regulate and self-advocate well, laptops are godsend. And they're useful for students who need them as accommodations. But many other students have a great deal of trouble staying on task, even when the task involves working with other students. Still others would be happy if all technology were banned from the classroom and they were allowed to turn in all their work in handwritten form. Each of them has a very different relationship to technology, a wholly different level of technical and information literacy, and often a wholly different level of general literacy and study skills. For students who lack some of these skills, laptop and mobile device use is incredibly destructive.

For some students, technology helps with this, or can be made helpful. For others, it's a barrier or a distraction.

I don't ban laptops unless we're trying to have a discussion, or work on paper-and-pen stuff in groups. I do generally ban mobile device use during group work or discussion, but a student who can show me they're using the device to look up something relevant will get a pass on that.

Mostly, I try to give students an opportunity to make an informed decision about what they're doing, so long as they aren't distracting or underserving their classmates. Some students make good choices; others make poor ones; and others never understand that they're making a choice at all.
posted by kewb at 4:06 AM on November 29 [2 favorites]


My strategy as a lecturer has been to have a default no laptops policy......

Because I don't require reasons, or evidence of anything like a disability, I don't think there's any felt stigma from the people who choose to keep their laptops


I appreciate that you are thoughtful about this topic, but I assure you that you have not magically solved the stigma issue with this one weird trick.

There is enormous social pressure to not be singled out in the classroom setting by being the person with the laptop. I'd lay a lot of money down that there are people that have wanted and needed to use theirs in your classes but have not asked for it due to this pressure. I'd also wager that any who have requested the special dispensation, despite there being no required reason, have felt singled out and self-conscious bordering on embarrassed.

I urge you to reconsider your position on laptops.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:37 AM on November 29 [2 favorites]


So are electronic word processors cool again? Time to bust out my Alphasmart NEO!

oh please bring these back into production!

my partner has a disability that makes hand writing very difficult for him, and he cherishes his neo - we call it his "typewriter". but he only has the one and they're not in production anymore.

but yeah: laptop bans are bad - and image storage of notes is NOT the same as typed. I use a computer to take notes at meetings where I need detailed notes, because I can't write as quickly as I can type. turn off the wireless if you want people off the internet.
posted by jb at 6:06 AM on November 29


and I say this as a pen fanatic and wanna-be calligrapher: I love writing by hand.

But not everyone is me - and computers are one of the best disability aids ever created.
posted by jb at 6:08 AM on November 29 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's a matter of treating people like adults, I think it's a basic fact that people of all ages are easily distracted and will do distracting stuff if it's available to them. There is no classroom (or meeting, or event, etc.) where some people are taking notes by hand or some are taking notes on laptops. The reality is that there are classrooms where some people are taking notes by hand, some on laptops, and a bunch of people are dicking around on the internet.

Yeah, people framing this issue often seem eager to make this into a matter of evil luddite teachers, but my own students would complain to me about other students in the class doing distracting things on their computers. People who use their laptops to actually take notes are typically in the minority in undergrad lectures. I never banned laptops because of it, but it is a tradeoff, and students trying to actually focus and learn were the ones paying the price when their friends spent class obsessively social-media-ing.

I don't blame them! I'm the same way! But to pretend otherwise is silly.

I saw a smart classroom setup once where each student had a computer, but whatever was on their screen was visible through a screen available to the instructor at the front. Made them a lot less likely to bingewatch tv during class, I'm guessing.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:58 AM on November 29 [2 favorites]


Let people use laptops. But have the laptoppers sit on one side of the room, where they can distract themselves and one another and get lower grades, and have the scribblers sit on the other side.

Editorializing about laptop use aside, I actually really like this idea and will consider implementing it when I'm teaching. Sort of like the smoking and nonsmoking sections restaurants used to have; let people who want to use devices sit with other people who presumably aren't bothered by them, and provide a space for those who find them distracting not to have to worry about them.

Anecdotes:

When I was a first-year graduate student in the biomedical sciences, we had (somewhat unusually) one course that we took with the medical students. The course was a hybrid, involving pedagogical lectures from various experts in their subdisciplines, as well as interviews with patients who generously volunteered to discuss their conditions and treatments in front of a class of dozens of first-year medical students. The medical school went out of its way to make a variety of options for engaging with the class available to the medical students. Every medical student was issued a laptop, which they were expected to use to take notes during class if they wanted. The lectures and patient interviews were also videotaped by a professional A/V person and made available to those taking the class on the internet, if you had to miss class or preferred to watch the lecture at double speed and/or pause and rewind. Despite all of these options, many of the medical students frequently used their laptops during class to browse Facebook or shop online, including when patients were being interviewed about their rare neurological conditions, which is just about the least boring lecture-y thing I can imagine. As a Ph.D. student, I found this incredibly distracting, as well as disrespectful to the patients who had generously volunteered their time and privacy to discuss their cases in front of dozens of people, so that future doctors would be better educated and understand their conditions. That was almost ten years ago; a lot of those students are probably practicing physicians by now.

On the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of class size, I later took a class with about six or so other students, one of whom was an undergraduate senior who had chosen to take a grad-level course as an elective. With such a small classroom, if you weren't in the front row you could see everyone's laptop screen if they had one, and she always sat in the front row. She spent quite literally almost the entirety of every single class session scrolling through Buzzfeed. Not reading: scrolling, without stopping until reaching the end of the page, when she would click another "article" and begin scrolling. Her screen was a constant source of visual movement in the corner of my eye, and was extremely distracting and annoying. One could argue that this was just her style for focusing, but unsurprisingly she never seemed to understand the material, and frequently made comments or asked questions that indicated she hadn't been paying attention to what had just been discussed.

I understand that many people here find laptops for note taking invaluable, and I think you should be able to use them. But it's the inconsiderate jerks like these who ruin it for everyone. It's not a question of treating people like adults, it's a question of treating adults as responsible for not disrupting others' learning. I'd much rather have someone not show up to class at all than have them show up and browse Buzzfeed the entire time.
posted by biogeo at 8:16 AM on November 29 [5 favorites]


The detrimental effect of laptops on students who are not using laptops has been demonstrated experimentally:
Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers

Laptops are commonplace in university classrooms. In light of cognitive psychology theory on costs associated with multitasking, we examined the effects of in-class laptop use on student learning in a simulated classroom. We found that participants who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to those who did not multitask, and participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to those who were not. The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content. (emphasis added)
The challenge here for instructors is to protect the rights of the non-laptop-using students to not have their grades lowered by inconsiderate peers, while also respecting the needs of those who cannot hand-write notes.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:50 AM on November 29 [4 favorites]


Is the problem that students use laptops? Or is it that they browse the internet?

If the internet is the problem, could schools require and provide non-wireless ("federalized") laptops? You use it to take notes, but you need to make a hardware connection to transfer data? Or could schools simply not offer wireless coverage on campus? I'm sure students would work hard to get around such restrictions, but it probably would reduce the problem a lot.
posted by pracowity at 10:28 AM on November 29 [1 favorite]


Flip longer lectures to homework as videos. Move around the classroom, don’t stay at the “front.” Ask them to put their lids down (and turn their laptops around to face you) for a moment. Class is a great time for students to be active learners: Talk, write, work on projects, react to the lecture they listened to at home, or even do chunks of reading

Try teaching adults in a group some time. We are much worse than the students for distraction. And we don’t do the reading either.
posted by Peach at 10:32 AM on November 29


Videos are not great unless transcripts/CC are provided by default; asking for accessibility is annoying because most people act like it's a huge insulting imposition.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:42 AM on November 29 [3 favorites]


My students hate asking for accommodation and won’t do it even when I suggest it to everyone, talk about what I do, and have private conversations with them. They don’t want to stand out and they don’t want anyone to know. Ever since I realized I was ADHD I have been out there and obvious about it myself, but then I’m also used to telling people I don’t drink.

You can rewind videos. That’s how I do it.
posted by Peach at 10:53 AM on November 29


some people can't hear.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:00 AM on November 29 [4 favorites]


Videos are not great unless transcripts/CC are provided by default; asking for accessibility is annoying because most people act like it's a huge insulting imposition.

Are students with hearing-related issues already accommodated with interpreters? Would it be possible to use these same interpreters to provide close captioning?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:01 AM on November 29


If the internet is the problem, could schools require and provide non-wireless ("federalized") laptops?

If most schools had money available to fund something like this, a whole array of possible solutions would be available. But most schools are laughing at the innocent ignorance of your suggestion.

Or could schools simply not offer wireless coverage on campus?

So, you know how important and useful the internet is in everyday life, in nearly all aspects of our culture? It's just like that on college campuses, maybe moreso. Removing wireless coverage on my campus, among many other negative effects, would mean that the 10,000+ students on my campus every day would have to queue up for time-limited use of the few hundred wired, desktop computers we have available in the library, student union, dorms, etc., to do most of their work, research, class registration, fee payment, basically most of the things they need to do outside of class meetings for "school."

Controlling or metering access is an authoritarian solution that addresses symptoms: students who use laptops in class most commonly lack the skill set to stay focused on the class, and to only use their laptop as the tool that's needed. The bad habits of clicking around, checking social media, and general "multi-tasking" are much deeper than most young adults' good intentions. If I, as a teacher, force behavioral compliance, I will successfully address a symptom--but will I have done anything at all to address the underlying causes? Anything to help my students be aware of ideas, habits, patterns, skill sets that they need to see or learn?

If I just remove wireless internet access, or only allow school-provided dumb laptops in class, I have done little or nothing to empower my students to understand themselves and what they need to learn, or how they might beneficially grow in some way as thoughtful human beings. I have provided them with no tools. (Maybe it's important to note that college is not school for kids, it's school for adults: that stage of life when you have to take responsibility for your actions, not start taking--that's for adolescence. This is often a surprise to learn for students, too.)

My own sense as a professor is that this is mostly my students' challenge and problem, and is one that I faced myself a few years ago when I went back to graduate school for my final degree after teaching for several years. I quickly learned that holy shit, an open laptop just obliterates my ability to pay attention and be engaged as a student. But that wasn't my professors' problem to solve, it was mine; my work habits as a student are my responsibility. As a doctoral student, expectations for me were of course vastly more substantial than for an undergraduate student, but only in degree, not kind. I very much expect my undergraduate students to exercise ownership and responsibility of their work habits, but I also know that they need much more structure, guidance and patience in learning those things and building good habits.

But to cast this as the teacher's problem strikes me as a consumerist framing, i.e., the student's needs as a customer are not being met by their service provider, the instructor. But those needs can only be met, and those habits only changed, in any way resembling healthy and sustainable, by the student themselves. Learning is not consumption, the students haven't purchased services from a provider, and I cannot effectively, externally enforce behaviors, framings, habits that must originate from the person performing the verb 'to learn' in this situation. I am in an ongoing work collaboration with my students, and they are responsible for their part of our work together.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:49 AM on November 29 [8 favorites]


When I was in college, I had to use a slide rule in several of my classes, so I have no personal investment in this argument, nor much experience taking notes on a device.
Last week or two, I was listening to something on NPR Now on Sirius, and they were describing a class where the students had to choose at the start of the semester whether to use a laptop or not.
It seemed weird to have a one-time-only choice, like you couldn't determine along the way that you needed to change.
I can understand the 1st-5-rows argument, and even the noisy keyboard argument, but a professor banning laptops 'just because' sounds like an asshole.
I like the idea of classes to teach one how to take notes on a laptop. It was a struggle for me to learn to take notes at all.
posted by MtDewd at 12:31 PM on November 29 [1 favorite]


I expect that laptops would give me the same problem my notebooks did back when I was "taking notes" in lectures. If I'm focusing on writing, then I'm not listening. Every notebook I've ever owned that saw real use has more abstract scrollwork in it than words. It's an attention deficit coping mechanism. I can't write notes or the notes distract me. I can't sit still. So I came up with something to occupy my hands that doesn't use my language center. I'd have gone with embroidery or knitting, but that distracts the other students. I would drop a couple of reminders in amongst the doodling, as well as specific references or assignments. Then, immediately after class, I'd do a brain dump of everything I'd just listened to onto paper. That night, I'd transfer it onto a computer, and make it as fiddly neat as my brain wanted. Too many screen things are language related and would probably mess up my focus, but I'd bet the messy brain dump onto a computer then tidy notes later would still work with a laptop.

I have a feeling that technique would fail miserably for a lot of students (don't take longhand or keyboard notes, just doodle and make origami!) and it drove at least one professor nuts until I finally brought in printouts of my "real" notes to prove I really was paying attention. So, yes, students have been negotiating disability related accommodations since before the Millennials ruined everything. It's possible that a lot of this stuff has less to do with the electronics and more to do with the electronics making some of this stuff more obvious.
posted by Karmakaze at 2:07 PM on November 29


I think there's an element missing from this conversation, which is that laptops and other devices aren't free or equally distributed among students. Are there statistics about laptop ownership among college students? Anecdotally, I've been taking college classes at the undergrad level, on and off, for the past 14 years. I've been at community colleges (mostly), at a private college, and at a public university (which is my current school). What I've seen is that laptop use has changed dramatically over time, and varies depending on the kind of institution and the people attending. Not surprisingly, I see more laptops than ever before, and certainly more laptops than I saw at community college.

I understand the concerns about knee-jerk reactions, or that laptop use is a misunderstood generational thing. I am a disabled student, so I definitely get concerns about their value for other students with disabilities. But I do want to emphasize that as of November 2017, a large percentage of college students (I would imagine a majority) don't have laptops. I suspect that I see so many laptops at my current school because it's an elite university with a relatively affluent student body.

When I'm especially grouchy, I completely resent that the wealthy kids get to use their laptops to shop or look at Buzzfeed, to the detriment of my attention and my education. The reality, I think, is that laptops are also becoming common enough that this would be an unfair characterization. But - and I'm writing in a hurry and badly forming my thoughts - I think it's worth looking at the relationships between students who have laptops and use them to dick around in class, and students who don't and can't. There is a 100% chance that there are students with disabilities who would benefit from the use of a laptop, who don't have access to one, and who are also further impacted by thoughtless or careless laptop use (as in, looking at Buzzfeed) by other students. It doesn't mean the solution is to ban them outright, but it's another thing to be aware of, for sure.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:15 PM on November 29 [3 favorites]


Note taking? What note taking? I am back in college to earn another B.A. 40 years after receiving my first degree. One thing I noticed when I sat in the back of the in a lecture course room and could see most of the students was that very few of them were taking notes. I asked the TA about this and posted a query on my school's Reddit page (FWIW), and the answer was that the students planned study from the Power Point slides. While the professor did use Power Point, she told the class at the beginning of the term that she'd be testing on information not covered by the slides. One reason I haven't had much success in borrowing other student's notes for the days I've missed class is they don't take them in the first place.

I keep my laptop closed on the desk next to me during lectures. Could I use it in class to look up points made during the lecture? Yes, but to satisfy my curiosity, I'd need to tune out the professor, and by time I'd finished my mini research process and focused back on the lecture who knows how much I would have missed. I'd rather do the follow up after class.

While I do not consider my misophonia disabling, I absolutely hate the clackety-clackety-clackety sound of laptop keyboards. In the library, I use noise-canceling earphones and, if necessary, ear plugs, to insulate me from this maddening distraction, but being in a classroom full of laptop note takers would be torture. I am so glad I took the bar exam before the advent of laptops.
posted by A. Davey at 5:42 PM on November 29


Dipping back into this -- I've seriously considered smuggling a wifi-jammer into my classroom, taped under a table at the back.

I've REALLY thought about this during exams, in particular. They are not supposed to look at their phones, but they do try.
posted by jrochest at 10:11 PM on November 29


So, you know how important and useful the internet is in everyday life, in nearly all aspects of our culture? It's just like that on college campuses, maybe moreso.... [B]asically most of the things they need to do outside of class meetings for "school."


Honestly, even this understates the case, and reflects a certain meta-filtering of metafilter users (hohoho).

The vast majority of college students are not in elite schools and their classes are largely taught on Blackboard by disinterested instructors using a curriculum packaged with the textbook, maybe with a few additions.

To the extent there's a pedagogical problem with omnipresent technology, being on the other side of the lectern confers no immunity.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:36 AM on November 30


I am so glad I took the bar exam before the advent of laptops.

It's the worst in the big lectures, for the actual exam everyone just wears earplugs. For finals too.

Dipping back into this -- I've seriously considered smuggling a wifi-jammer into my classroom, taped under a table at the back. I've REALLY thought about this during exams, in particular. They are not supposed to look at their phones, but they do try.

That wouldn't be too smart because , and phones don't need wifi to reach the internet.
posted by
snuffleupagus at 7:38 AM on November 30


To the extent there's a pedagogical problem with omnipresent technology, being on the other side of the lectern confers no immunity.

That's definitely some truth. And how about all the push and pressure on professors to create hybrid and/or online classes, particularly at any State U., with no real training provided? How are we as teachers (if you went to school before 2010 or so) supposed to learn and develop effective hybrid instructional modes and models, that leverage all of these wonderful tools we have access to, without some serious learning, thought, experimentation, etc.?

There is so much potential for innovative teaching and learning, but we are being given no ability to work with available tools to build fluency with them, that they may be most effectively applied. It's not good.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:31 AM on November 30 [1 favorite]


without some serious learning, thought, experimentation, etc.?

I provide training for faculty in educational technology at a large public university. We have some rock star faculty that are ready, willing, and able to utilize the many resources we provide, and I treasure them. They are thoughtful, prudent, motivated, and talented and I love working with them. We also do a huge amount of screaming into the void, giving trainings to an empty room with 2 people in it, etc.... Effective use of technology is not something that's included on teaching evaluations here and in an environment with limited time and resources, if it's not measured, it's not considered important.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:57 AM on November 30 [1 favorite]


Effective use of technology is not something that's included on teaching evaluations here [...] f it's not measured, it's not considered important.

Not even for online or hybrid courses? That's an...interesting practice. Since your university provides ample training opportunities, do they also provide workload provision or additional compensation for faculty to participate in that training, and/or its application (e.g., designing new hybrid/online courses or version of courses)? That's often the gap I see, that an institution covers the relatively small cost of providing training, but does not provide for the time to what are (in most cases) already-overloaded faculty members.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:16 PM on November 30


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