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Bodies Present, Brains Not Accounted For

Using laptops in class overwhelmingly distracting for students, PHOENIX survey finds

Senior Madeline Field, 22, has a new friend — or something like that. Although Field has never talked to this “friend,” a woman who sits in front of her in class, Field said she feels like she knows her. How? Field sees what the woman looks at on her computer screen, whether it be email, Facebook or shopping sites.

“She does a lot of shopping on cool start-up clothing sites that I have never heard of,” Field said. “I feel really creepy about it, but it’s natural to zone out some in class, and when someone is surfing the web in front of you, your eyes just sort of gravitate toward the screen.”

Although Field said she recognizes the potential benefits of using laptops in the classroom (she cited a time when her class passed around a laptop showing a painting relevant to their reading), she said she also sees the downside.

“For the most part, I am definitely more distracted than aided [by] tech in the classroom,” she said.

Many students agree with Field.

In an unscientific survey conducted by The Phoenix, four out of 178 student respondents, or about 2 percent, said they exclusively use their laptop to take notes in class.

80 percent of respondents, or 148 out of 185, said they agreed with the statement “I’m more easily distracted when I’m allowed to use my laptop in class.”

Additionally, 172 out of 185 respondents, or 93 percent, said they thought other students were more easily distracted when allowed to use laptops in class.

 

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When a class doesn’t have a strict technology policy, it’s up to the students to find the motivation to pay attention and fight the urge to mindlessly binge on the internet.

Clearly, for some students, it’s a losing battle.

There are students and teachers, such as finance professor George Davidson, who advocate for the use of technology in the classroom both for professors and students. Davidson said he thinks professors need to “optimize” technology use during class.

Davidson specified Sakai as one resource students and professors could use more. He said Sakai, Loyola’s online class resource hub, is useful in the way it lets students stay updated on assignments, materials, lecture notes and grades almost 24/7. He also said he likes that students can use laptops in class to immediately look up material he discusses in lectures.

That said, however, he also recognized the downside to letting students use laptops in class, citing the “obvious allure of social media.”

“We’d be throwing out the baby with the bathwater if we banned laptops from the classroom,” Davidson said. “If a student is going to be irresponsible [with technology in class], cheating himself, that’s his business.”

Davidson elaborated in an email to The Phoenix.

“Tech does not automatically transform a sub-par student into a superior performer — same applies to the professor,” he stated.

It’s a teacher’s job to engage the students, said another finance instructor, Bill Bergman. However, he said he can’t force students to engage, and if they want to spend class doing other activities on their computers, that’s their choice.

Some students, such as senior Joe Straitiff, 21, said they like when professors are able to keep students engaged with or without a computer.

“At the end of the day, I feel like the professors I’ve enjoyed the most and have been the most interesting to me have been the ones that can make a class interesting without a laptop, that make you want to participate in dialogue,” said the environmental studies major. “And the fact that they don’t let you have a computer doesn’t really matter at that point, because I’m interested in [class].”

Almost 65 percent — 120 out of 186 — of the respondents to The Phoenix’s survey said the professor should be able to choose whether or not laptops are allowed in class. About 26 percent — 49 out of 186 — said they should be allowed to use laptops in every single class and about 9 percent — 17 out of 186 —  said they should not be allowed to use laptops in class.

The majority of student survey respondents reported being allowed to use laptops in three or four classes this semester.

Al Gini, the management department chairperson and a management professor, bans the use of laptops and tablet devices in class, even though he said he thinks the computer is the single most important development in education.

Gini used to allow students to use laptops in class, but he stopped four years ago after students reported being distracted by others’ laptop usage. He also read research about laptop use in class and witnessed the effects himself.

“There’s a disconnect here. They’re typing like crazy, but their papers or their exams don’t reflect the amount of labor they seem to be doing,” Gini said.

An article in the New Yorker titled “The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom” cites research done by Cornell University, Princeton University and the University of California that showed the negative effects of multitasking, specifically with the use of laptops as note-taking devices. While typing may allow students to make a transcript of the class, being forced to pick and choose what to write down on paper encourages learning, the article proposes.

Most students prefer to take notes by hand, The Phoenix’s survey found. Out of 186 respondents, 116, or about 62 percent, said they preferred to take notes on paper. Sixty students, or about 32 percent, said they prefered a laptop. Ten students didn’t take notes at all.

Senior Zach Weinreich, 21, said physically writing notes can be more effective for learning and having a laptop doesn’t necessarily make you a faster note taker.

“You could take all the notes you needed to on paper if you really needed to,” said the criminal justice major. “I don’t think it’s any quicker to take them on a computer — maybe a little bit.”

According to Weinreich, a compromise between professors and laptop-using students should be reached because there’s no way for teachers to police the use of laptops in class. Straitiff agrees and proposes being allowed to use laptops some of the time.

“I think [laptop use] should be allowed, but it would certainly be OK for a professor to every once in a while say, ‘Alright, close your laptops. We’re going to do this thing you don’t need your laptop for,’” Straitiff said. “And that happens in a fair amount of my classes.”

Ultimately for Straitiff, using a laptop in class to take notes comes down to discipline.

“It’s certainly an issue of self-control,” he said.

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Rory Dayton is an Assistant News Editor with the Phoenix and is in his final year at Loyola. He is studying both finance and information systems with a minor in management. Rory contributes regularly to the news section. He plays the drums in a jazz band when he's not busy with academia.

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