What to do about laptops in lectures: Worse for the bystanders

November 1, 2013 at 1:07 am 7 comments

Fascinating result: The bystanders have their learning impacted more than the ones who opened up the laptop.

There is a fundamental tension here, and I don’t know how to resolve it. On the one hand, I like it when students have their laptops in class. Many of them are more comfortable taking notes this way than longhand. In the middle of a lecture I might ask someone to look something up that I don’t know off the top of my head.

On the other hand, the potential for distraction is terrible. I’ve walked in the back of the classroom of many of my colleagues and seen that perhaps 50% of the students are on the Web.

via What to do about laptops in lectures? – Daniel Willingham.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bill Leahy  |  November 1, 2013 at 2:01 am

    I think we need to rethink how we deliver lectures. Maybe there should be one person lecturing and x people monitoring a website where students can ask questions which can be fed to the lecturer or just answered for the person that asked.

  • 2. Ken Bauer  |  November 1, 2013 at 7:34 am

    I find this to be not surprising at all. Lecturing (except under a few circumstances) does not work, the students can get that content outside of the classroom which frees us to engage them inside the classroom session. Note that I have the luxury of ~25 student class size.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  November 1, 2013 at 10:01 am

      I wonder which is more distracting, which encourages focus, and which is more conducive to learning: A lecture or Facebook? The laptop is a weapon of mass distraction — most of what students do on laptops in a lecture hall has little to do with learning. On the other side, there is much that a good teacher can do to encourage learning in a lecture hall, particularly if she does little actual lecturing. If you compare the best lecturer (say, Beth Simon using her peer instruction methods) to a laptop (with enticing Tweets, YouTube, and Facebook), I’d bet on Beth every time.

      • 4. kenbauer  |  November 1, 2013 at 10:19 am

        Mark, I love the use of “weapon of mass distruction” here, I’m going to borrow that soon. Nothing frustrates me more as a teacher than a highly disruptive student in my classroom. I hestitate to toss them out which is something I would do about 20 years ago but I can’t remember the last time I have done that.

        Over the last few years, I have really improved my ability to engage my students in class (in both activities or short lectures) which I believe led to enabling some disruptor-defusers (students) that stop the problem behaviour cold. These moments are golden.

        This is a complex problem and I probably oversimplied my point here (don’t comment before first coffee) but I do think that we as educators have to find a way to engage the students that want to be engaged while also doing our best (without harming the others) to work with these non-engaged students to find the source of their problems.

      • 5. Lecia Barker  |  November 2, 2013 at 9:27 am

        I start each term by telling students that they must be offline in class. They can take notes or refer to readings on their devices, but no FB, email, chat, SMS, browser, etc. if they want to do this, they can leave. I don’t lecture and require a lot of student interaction. I tell students that with this approach to learning, they owe it to each other to be paying attention to what’s going on in class. I do peer at them when they have their devices out. Caveats: I have the luxury of relatively small classes and all grad students. They get it when I tell them they are paying for this experience.

  • 6. kmoch  |  November 1, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Joe Kmoch (iPhone) Pls excuse typos – I have fat fingers

  • 7. Andrew Martin  |  November 1, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    A laptop, like any tool, is only as good or bad as its user. Many people were never taught to respect tools and use them properly. A laptop can be a great study/note-taking tool. However, it can also be a great distraction when it comes to students not using them in a correct fashion.


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