From the moment one walks onto NC State’s campus, they are bombarded with reminders of our university’s love of innovation. Labs brimming with breakthroughs find themselves encased in beautiful brick facades, buses that are headed for our research-oriented mega-complex known as Centennial zip up and down our streets reading “Engineering”in brazen orange letters and the only three words you might see more often than the beloved two-word phrase “Go Pack!” are “Think and Do.” With such a stunning embrace of technology ever so apparent, and with such a stunning level of faith placed in our student population that we can push the envelope of discovery, one can only wonder why so many teachers feel the need to ban laptops in their classrooms.
Perhaps the first point to be made in favor of allowing laptops in the classroom is purely their efficacy. Students using laptops for their notes are, on average, able to get down 33 percent more words per minute than their peers who are handwriting everything. Laptops also provide the student a variety of opportunities to enhance their education. Perhaps the most obvious reason for why laptops ought to be, at the very least, allowed in classrooms is their pure convenience: notes related to certain subjects and subsets within those subjects can more easily be organized thanks to programs such as Google Drive and iCloud, which essentially renders laptops the ability to be considered a one-stop notebook of sorts. Professors could actually capitalize on such a ubiquitous technology by using interactive technologies in class, such as “Kahoot!” or “Fishbowl,” to ignite student participation in nontraditional ways and to keep student attention. Perhaps on a more macro level, students are helping to cut down on the amount of paper being used by using a laptop as their primary note taking method, which, currently, is indeed a pressing environmental issue.
However, even with these advantages of using laptops in class being made apparent, teachers still might argue against allowing these devices in their class. One of, if not the primary, arguments against allowing laptops into the classroom is that they’re simply not needed for any sort of note taking, and that, in fact, handwritten notes retain more information for the note taker. This claim is supported by a 2014 UCLA and Princeton University study that found that when two groups, with one taking notes by hand and the other by laptop, were tested on a variety of subjects, although the group who used laptops had more notes to look at, the group who took notes manually performed far better.
Another common complaint with the presence of laptops in class is that they’re too distracting, both for the user and for the spectator, and this complaint is not unfounded. Surely everyone reading this column can remember a time they were sitting in class and in front of you was someone on Reddit or Facebook or Amazon or any other variant of a website that they shouldn’t have been on during class time. It’s annoying and yes, it is distracting. You might have even been that person for someone else, and, if you were, who can blame you? It’s tempting to not give into your urges when you’re 35 minutes into an hour-and-15-minute long lecture about kinematics to check your notifications just for five minutes. And that, according to most anti-laptop folk, is exactly the problem.
These counter-arguments raise valid points, but that doesn’t excuse the outright ban of laptops. College is the place where we, as students, must prepare ourselves for life outside of college. The fact of the matter is that life outside of college does have distractions and does not have bans on those distractions. Furthermore, regardless how one feels about the purpose of higher education, it is safe to say that the obtainment of a college degree is directly correlated to the income level of a worker in the job market, with those who have a bachelor’s degree earning an average of $17,500 more per year than those who only have a high school diploma.
That being said, it can be assumed that the role of college, whilst having the primary duty of providing an education for its students, is to adequately prepare them for a job market that ever-increasingly seeks out and welcomes college grads. However, the success of one’s career in today’s job market is dependent on their competency with technology, including their ability to deal with the presence of distractions and ignore them. Moreover, it is dependent on their ability to use technology to communicate large quantities of information in a simple and accessible platform. If asked what the name for such an activity might be, one might respond with the term “notes.”
By instilling bans like these, and by pseudo-mandating that students retreat into the notetaking methods of yesteryear, the professors of today are assuming that their students as a whole are unable to take charge of their own education and that the technology in and of itself is nothing more than a cesspool of eventual incompetency and Facebook messenger alerts. That is an unhealthy assumption to instill in our students, students who will soon need to navigate this cesspool upon graduation.