Prof to Students: Leave the Laptop in the Bag

[responsive]male student Tired of studying[/responsive]Look inside any college classroom in America and you’ll see not a sea of eager faces looking up at you, but a shield of laptop backs and the tops of heads bent over their keyboards.

But not every head hidden behind those screens is paying attention, notes Todd Zwillich in an audio interview on The Takeaway entitled “Take Note: Us a Pen and Power Down the Laptop.”

Research has shown that long-hand notes provide better recall, and this isn’t the only reason some instructors are banning the ubiquitous devices from their classrooms.

Zwillich spoke with Laura Noren, an adjunct professor prof at NYU Stern about what she’s seen as a result of making her room a digital-free zone.

“It was kind of a slow phase out. We started by just banning them in our small sections,” Noren explains in an audio clip of her conversation with Zwillich. “Then year after year we realized how important is it to have students pay attention to our faces as we’re standing in front of the classroom.”

Not only is it important for the students to pay attention, it’s also important for the instructor to get feedback from the class.

“If they’re staring at their screen, we can’t tell if they’re paying attention, on Facebook, researching the topic on Wikipedia,” she notes.

Zwillich asked Noren if she noticed a difference in what’s getting through and how they are engaging with her and each other.

“Over the course of the semester, their ability to participate in discussions in class goes up dramatically. At first they’re very quiet, they don’t know how to interact with each other; they only talk to me,” she explains. “As the course goes on, they can talk student-to-student better, and participate in a conversation that goes across the entire classroom. I think that would not happen if laptops were open.”

It’s a refreshing thought to know that, in addition to classroom material, students are also learning the art of conversation and discussion in real time, face to face. And she’s quick to point out that course materials, handouts and assignments are still shared via digitally, so she’s not banned technology altogether – just during class time.

Ironically, Noren notes that some of the biggest resistance on campus comes from other professors who resist shutting down their own laptops when sitting in on lectures and meetings.  But she’s not out to change the world, just the habits of her own students. So far, she’s pleased with the results.