Attack of the Macs — Bailey Jacobs, CTE Co-op Student

It is safe to say that technology has dominated the world—Okay, I may be exaggerating [slightly] but it is evident, walking into any lecture currently taking place on the UW campus, that laptops have undeniably invaded the university classroom.  Seeing as it has been a few years since the CTE blog has discussed the contentious topic of laptop use, I am going to tackle this subject from a new angle… The student’s perspective.

If you take a look down a row of classroom seats you will find that the classic spiral notebook as been replaced with a new kind of notebook, boasting the same thickness and size, the new and improved notebook can do just about anything for its student user, short of generate a logical response when the distracted student is called upon during a lecture.

The use of laptops in educational spaces, such as lecture halls, is perceived by some instructors as a useful classroom tool for both the student and the educator, and presents the potential for technology assisted learning (refer to the CTE blog post, “Six Reasons I like laptops in the Classroom—by, Linda Carson.) However, the optimistic light in which some instructors view in-class laptop use as beneficial—or at least an inevitable presence that they can constructively incorporate into their lessons—extends only until the point of laptop misuse in classroom.

The majority of educators seem to believe that laptop misuse in lectures is the weighted side of this controversial coin… They would be correct.

The majority of my time over the past few years has been spent sitting in lecture halls, being the ideal student with my (spiral ringed) notebook and pencil in hand— well, I tried my best. At the start of my first year of university, I believed that my tidy handwriting and organized note taking skills would be perfect for in class note taking, however, I was surprised to see that the majority of my first-year peers opted to use their Macbooks for this purpose. I was even more surprised when I found myself absent-mindedly gazing at the array of laptop displays in front of me instead of focusing on the lecture being given. I could not believe what I saw.

Our “connected” generation remains “plugged in” during class. Perched behind their screens, the up and coming academics are pursuing their Twitter feeds, balancing multiple Facebook chats, “discretely” taking Snapchat’s of themselves and posting pictures to Instagram all whilst a professor is, undoubtedly, trying their best to teach at the front of the room. Granted while most of these “light multi-tasking” students are staying on top of their social media agendas, one of their laptop windows is open to the PowerPoint presentation taking place, a Word document for notes or a Learn tab for the course.

Should a class, goodness forbid, take place on a Tuesday evening during the Winter term or a Thursday evening during the Fall term—the “heavy multi-taskers” will appear. The heavy multi-taskers can be found streaming the (insert name of your favorite hockey or football team here) game. Often sitting with fellow heavy multi-taskers, the game-watching students may even be found with a headphone in one of their ears, while always keeping their second ear free to hear the instructor say the trigger word: “exam.”

While I may have laughed the first few times I observed a fellow classmate taking a Snapchat of themselves, or when I saw two people, who were texting each other while sitting beside each other, the rest of my observations occur frequently during classes.

Moving along to 2013, I was in second year and my “old school” note taking techniques are not working for me—I simply cannot write fast enough to take down thorough slide notes and keep up with the professors. My typing is faster than my writing and allows me to follow along with the slideshow and type my notes seamlessly. I turn off my AirPort, as not to get distracted by the temptations of social media or otherwise, while I listen to the professor and follow along with the lecture. If I know that I may have to send some quick email correspondence during class, I will actively try to find a seat towards the back, or outer edges of the classroom.

At this point we all are left with some of the following logical questions:

How can students multi-task both misusing their laptop and learning? Secondly, what is the effect of laptop misuse on the laptop users and those situated near them in a learning environment? (Note: The study performed by researchers at York university, exploring similar questions.) Why do students bother to attend class if they are not interested in learning? Is the misuse of laptops and lack of focus in class due to a fault of the instructor, disinterest in the subject matter or solely due to a craving for constant social connection?

The million-dollar question would be would be:

Knowing that students frequently misuse laptops in the classroom, how should this issue be approached at both the campus-level and the classroom level, while appreciating those students (like myself) who use laptops constructively and respecting the autonomy of UW students?

Seeing as my expertise is solely of the student variety, I would love to hear input from the UW faculty and my fellow students! What do you think?