College classroom laptop use stirs debate

Some educators call devices distracting
Augusta State University students Terra Black (left) and Lyston Skerritt use their laptops in Dr. Debbie Van Tuyll's media law class. Some college educators consider laptop use in the classroom a distraction.

The laptop computer might seem to be a helpful classroom tool for student note-taking or research, but nationally and locally, college professors have mixed opinions about whether they should be permitted.

"I'm all for laptops ... but not in class," said Dr. Andrew Geyer, an assistant professor of English at the University of South Carolina Aiken who doesn't allow electronic devices to be used in his classroom. "Unfortunately, I have found that the lure of these distractions is too great for many students to resist. Instead of being actively engaged in classroom activities, too many students are lost in cyberspace."

Dr. Debbie Van Tuyll, a professor at Augusta State University, said that as long as a student's laptop use isn't distracting she doesn't object.

"Laptops can be both a distraction and a helpful aid," she said. "It depends on how students use them."

Ultimately, she said, "My students are adults. If they wish to misuse their class time, they're the ones who will have to suffer the consequences."

NATIONALLY, A GROWING number of faculty are banning laptops from classrooms because they're perceived as a distraction for students, according to the Education Resources Information Center, which points to research that shows students spend a lot of time multitasking.

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, laptops have been banned in classrooms at George Washington University, American University, College of William and Mary, and the University of Virginia.

Stephanie Myers, an ASU chemistry professor, has her own laptop policy.

"My syllabus says if you use a laptop you have to sit in the back row," she said.

The idea is to prevent students from sitting behind someone with a laptop because that could cause them to get distracted by looking at the screen.

Myers said she has seen student use of laptops grow through the years and knows they're not always aiding classroom work. She said she recently caught a student on CNN's Web site while in her class.

"Of course, I see them texting in class, too," she said. "So that's just as bad."

She said some students have tablet computers that lay flat, and, "that's been fairly successful."

ASU SENIOR David Garnett, who brings a laptop on campus but puts it away when class starts, said he thinks the use of such a device should be dependent on its appropriateness for the subject being taught. He said a ban for all classes would be going too far, adding that, "If somebody's using one, it's never distracted me."

Brian Parr, an assistant professor in USC Aiken's Department of Exercise and Sports Science, said laptop use in his classes is rare but is allowed, except during exams: "The potential for cheating is just too great.

"I did have a student who used his smart phone to do a Google search for information during an exam once," he said. "I noticed, and he did not pass the exam."

Charmaine E. Wilson, a communications professor at USC Aiken, doesn't ban laptops.

"I hope (students) learn early on that all behavior communicates and that using cell phones and laptops in class can send a message that they don't want to send," she said.

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