University needs to take a stance on technology in classrooms

Image By: Katie Scheidt and Katie Scheidt

I sit in an early morning lecture, struggling to focus on my notebook. When the horizontal blue lines on the paper begin to blur, my eyes shift to concentrate on another source of distraction and I am supplied with rows upon rows of computer screens. With options like online shopping on the computer in front of me and a fight with a boyfriend on the computer to my right, why should I be interested in what my professor is saying?

Sound familiar?

The discussion of computers in classrooms has been a topic since personal laptops were created (or at least it feels like that). Since Googling “best laptop for college student 2014,” I have been hit with both sides of the argument of whether technology should be allowed in the classroom. A 2010 study conducted by a University of Colorado professor found that students who used laptops in class averaged scores 11 percent lower on tests than those who took notes the “old fashioned way.”

Students contradict statistics saying the only way they can keep up with fast-paced lectures is to type on computers. The pros and cons stack against each other in the question of whether technology should be allowed in the classroom or not. However, the bigger issue is the discrepancies between classrooms and our university’s unwillingness to declare computers appropriate or not for the classroom.

In one of my very first college lectures, my professor began class by telling all students with laptops to sit in the first three rows of the lecture hall. I began to think this was the norm, a way of remaining neutral in the situation of computers in class. But then my second lecture started with the professor telling every student to put away all electronic devices, as they would not be needed in class today or any day as a matter of fact. The inconsistencies were apparent.

Now, three years later, TopHat has swept across campus as an effective loophole to the no-technology rule. Students take the mandatory notes on paper, but are able to remain connected to technology through a smaller device: their smartphones. But is this really a new tool to curve students' distractions? I think not. With countless statistics stacked against laptops, coming from research performed by scientists at Princeton and UCLA, suggesting that when they are used for note taking they impair learning and cause shallower processing, I am confused as to why students and faculty still argue for technology in classrooms.

While I am not going on a brigade to close the lids on all laptops on campus, I am asking faculty to consider the contradiction they present when they ban all forms of technology, yet retract their statements a moment later when they ask students to pull out their laptops and answer a comprehensive question on TopHat or on other forms of media. More importantly, I am asking students to comprehend the research against technology and think twice before opening the lid on their laptops in lecture.

As someone who takes notes on paper, after grasping the effects of laptops in lecture it is hard to juggle the contradicting viewpoints of technology on campus. But it’s more frustrating to become distracted by computer screens filled with online shopping, airplane ticket purchases and sports' scores updates while in class. We are so saturated with technology in our lives that it is becoming hard to unplug while sitting in a 50 minute discussion. However, with our strong need for online connection, students should resist the urge to distraction and leave the laptop at home.

I understand that students find it easier to take notes on a laptop in class, but while some make the argument that technology is an invaluable tool for education, I argue that it devalues the purpose of class. With possibilities of distraction, copying and disconnecting in social interaction, I say unplug from technology and try a week with pen and paper.

Lilly is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. Do you agree with her that the university needs to take a stance on technology in the classroom? Do you have an issue with people using their laptops to take notes? Let us know at opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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