Opinion: Little learned from laptops


Are the laptops taking away students' attention from the teacher?

By Emma McHugh
When I was a freshman here, I took a philosophy class that seemed to move at a slow pace. To ease the boredom, students began bringing their laptops to class.  Toward the end, when the teacher would attempt to incite conversation about some philosophical matter, all he would receive in reply was the sound of typing on laptops.
The look of pure disappointment and discouragement on that professor’s face at all the fellow lost causes chatting away about nonsense on their laptops caused me to avoid regularly bringing my laptop to class from that day forth.
It is hard to set foot in any room at Fitchburg State College without seeing someone clicking away on their portable computer.  In recent years, laptops have become mandatory purchases for all students at FSC. 
As students become more and more invested in their laptops, the question must be raised: Do laptops help student learning?
Of course, there are obvious disadvantages to having a laptop in a classroom. It’s distracting!  Thanks to the wonderful world of technology, when students sit down with their laptops they have access to millions of databases, blogs, news websites and social networks.  Can the
average 20something sitting in a lecture really expect to not fall victim to one of these distractions?
Some students argue that being able to type faster than you can write by pen is a reason to allow students to have laptops in the classroom.  Instead of carrying around several notebooks and always remembering that pesky pen, you can just bring your laptop and be good to go!  Another pro would be the availability of information on the Web; if a teacher asks a question, you can quickly google the answer with your laptop.  Going green is also something that the avid laptop carrier may argue; laptops save paper whether in the form of note taking, hand outs, and even in some cases, textbooks.
But how do students use their laptops in classrooms?  As I’ve progressed to upper-level classes in the college, the number of laptop carriers seems to diminish. However, in most classes there are one or two who make themselves known through the soft clicking of their keys.  These people seem to always be typing something, even if the teacher is not saying anything.  Either they’re really thorough note-takers or they have succumbed to the distractions of their laptop.
Of course, I have seen students taking notes with their laptops and using them to benefit themselves in the classroom; but that number is eclipsed by the number of students I see on facebook.com or on addictinggames.com or chatting with their friends on their instant-messaging system.
Should this all matter? As adults, shouldn’t we be able to do as we please with our college education? I mean, we all do have ears so it’s not like we can’t hear what the teacher is saying. 
Why, then, are students not paying attention to an education they have paid top dollar for?  Maybe they just don’t care? Maybe they already know what the teacher is talking about? Either way, can teachers really step in and put an end to what could be today’s equivalent to passing notes or doodling?
Thinking of my philosophy professor, I say it all does matter. For most students, bringing a laptop to class is a way of distracting themselves from the material, the professor or a combination of the two. 
In my opinion, you might as well be absent.