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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Professors need to become more accepting of new age

Published: November 8, 2013
Section: Opinions

Online classes are surging in popularity, but what about the use of laptops in the traditional classroom setting? An increasing number of professors are banning laptops in the classroom, viewing them as an unnecessary distraction. Laptops, however, provide many tools to students, creating a learning aid for students who may otherwise have trouble focusing or keeping up with lectures.

I’m well aware that a select number of students choose to spend the entirety of class time surfing the web, Facebook or the latest news stories. When working to fit the needs of an entire class, perspective is necessary. Individual choices should not be the demise of students who use computers to effectively promote learning. It is important to shift the focus to cater to all types of learning styles and preferences, to create the optimum classroom environment.

This means allowing laptops.

Not doing so takes away from the learning experience. Digital media is simply (or not so simply) a large part of our lives. Whether you are a college student or professor, chances are your typing speed is fairly fast. The internet plays a role in research and assignments—it has essentially become an extension of the classroom. A person possessing masterful typing skills is no longer seen as the exception, but the rule. With so much time spent on computers in academia, learning and technology have become intertwined.

It is no surprise that many people find it easier to type than to write by hand. Laptops have become such a natural part of school work. Students are required to type papers, and after so many assignments, finger speed is not an issue. Because the use of computers is so common, the traditional classroom must adapt. Not allowing computers forces students to take notes in a way that might not be best suited for them.

To begin, many people can multitask better while typing than writing. They are looking up at the professor, while simultaneously taking notes rapidly. It is the ideal situation when you are effectively trying to transcribe as much quality information as possible. Utilizing a familiar, comfortable learning environment helps students be successful. If students don’t have to focus on writing everything by hand, they can focus more what the professor is saying.

Furthermore, some students have difficulty writing clear, concise notes by hand. Looking back on sloppily-written handwriting can be an obvious deterrent when returning to study for a final exam. We all know a student whose handwriting is hard to distinguish from a series of sophisticated scribbles. Laptops, when permitted, make it easy to look back on notes without squinting to comprehend.

It is true that if you have a learning disability you can still use a computer. However, it is even more distracting if only one person is typing away while the rest are writing. Students who do not have learning disabilities, but are much stronger typists than writers, might fall behind. Messy handwriting, unfortunately, does not always grant automatic computer privileges. Particular learning styles are put at a disadvantage when laptops are banned in the classroom.

For instance, for audio or visual learners who prefer seeing and listening, the use of laptops allows these students to focus more on what the teacher is saying and doing, with the unique speed and simplicity provided by typing. It is hard enough to follow all discussion points, let alone when one is familiar with typing but is then forced to write. While some primarily kinesthetic learners do work better by writing things down, we must not neglect those who suffer through this method. Easing the process of note taking by providing the option of computers makes it so one can focus more on what the professor is actually saying rather than scrambling to write down every last bit of information.

On this note, there are also apps available to help auditory learners through the use of computers. Evernote, for example, allows students to simultaneously record and take notes on the computer for free. Students can then go back and listen to the audio while they are studying alongside their notes.

There are many other apps out there to help different types of learners. For those who have trouble with time management, computers allow students to quickly pull up a schedule and record assignment dates as soon as the professor states them. This is great for visual learners who like seeing assignments written out, but don’t want to have to shuffle through their bag for a planner, only to miss important information and create an unnecessary distraction.

Laptops are more than ease, clarity and speed. While I understand that it is annoying for teachers to talk to a sea of screens, laptops do much more good than harm. At the end of the day, if computers mean a deeper understanding of the material, that computer logo takes on a much greater meaning.