Classroom Laptop Bans Redux

I have long believed that the issue of banning laptops in the
classroom is not the real issue, it is instead an indicator of student
attention/distraction. The premise of the argument to ban laptops can
be boiled down to…

“If you provide a distraction free environment, students can learn more”.

Plenty of room to argue what a “distraction” is, but I would rather
look at the “learn more” part.

If “learn more” is the goal, then this issue needs to be studied,
unpacked and examined to find out what exactly it means. Some
students are trying to learn more by using their laptops. Others are
realizing that they are not learning in the traditional, “sage on the
stage” classroom and so are opting to use their laptops to do
something else rather than waste their time “not learning”.

Generally speaking, the instructor who just lectures has no idea at
all if students are actually learning. Mere lecture may be the
easiest/cheapest way to “instruct” a roomful of students, but it
provides the least amount of feedback and therefore least opportunity
for correction. Shiny, happy faces without glazed-over, bovine
staring is NOT an indicator of attentiveness and interest and
learning. No network engineer worth her salt would run a network
without a dashboard of feedback about the health of the network and
systems. What is the equivalent in the classroom that measures
student attention/interest? (and yes, I know, students are not nodes
in a network and faculty are not servers).

I believe that lecturing should be eliminated almost entirely or taken
offline as videos or podcasts. Let the students learn the doctrine
from the book/reading/CALI lesson (sorry) and use the classroom for
small-group interaction, mini-writing projects where the results are
“passed to the left” and discussed with a partner, etc, etc. Some
interaction occurs with the socratic method, but, I suspect, not

This is what the laptop ban issue is highlighting. Students want to
learn and don’t want to waste time if they are not learning. They
want formative feedback – mostly from the instructor, maybe from their
peers, even from a computer – something that tells them they ARE
learning and mastering the topic. They can consume the “data” of the
course best on their own. They ARE graduate students after all.

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