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From the FAQ page of Alan Jacobs, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas:

Is it okay if I bring my laptop to class to take notes?

No, sorry, not any more. Now that Baylor offers wireless internet access in most classrooms, the university has provided you with too many opportunities for distractions. Think I’m over-reacting? Think you’re a master of multitasking? You are not. No, I really mean itHow many times do I have to tell you? Notes taken by hand are almost always more useful than typed notes, because more thoughtful selectivity goes into them; plus there are multiple cognitive benefits to writing by hand. And people who use laptops in class see their grades decline — and even contribute to lowering the grades of other people. Also, as often as possible you should annotate your books.

Here’s another report of a new study on this:

A new study in Psychological Science, though, suggests there’s even more to laptops’ negative effects on learning than distraction. Go old school with a pen and paper next time you want to remember something, according to Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton and the University of California-Los Angeles, respectively, because laptops actually make note-taking too easy.

The researchers ran a series of studies that tested college students’ understanding of TED Talks after they took notes on the videos either in longhand or on Internet-less laptops. Even without Facebook, the computer users consistently did worse at answering conceptual questions, and also factual-based ones when there was a considerable delay between the videos and testing.

You can read the whole thing here.

HT: @MatthewJHall

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14 thoughts on “Why Some Teachers Are Banning Laptops from the Classroom”

  1. Bruce Russell says:

    What a terrifically useful post

  2. Marty says:

    Minded to agree with him.

  3. Casey says:

    The only notes I return to from my seminary days are the ones in my Moleskin.
    Just saying.

  4. Melody says:

    Funny since our school system has bought all the kids laptops. First the high school and next year the middle school. I had the computer usage under control until they did that. They applauded themselves at being so 21st century.

  5. Rhys Laverty says:

    It’s crazy to say that hand writing is inherently better for learning than typing. If you’re used to hand writing, yes; but if you grow up using tablet devices from age 2, then no. The functions of the brain adapt to the technology we use. It’s called neural plasticity, and is totally contingent.

    1. Ray says:

      “[B]ut if you grow up using tablet devices from age 2…”

      I think I see the problem here.

    2. Zeke Mulcaghey says:

      Are you willing to at least interact with the science behind these claims? Is it possible that all means of communication are not, in fact, inherently equal? Neural plasticity means that the brain adapts, yes. But how does it adapt? Not necessarily in a way that’s better for learning.

      1. Curtis Sheidler says:

        Well said, Zeke. I might add that, given the relative newness of tablet technology in the first place–and the even GREATER recency of tablet UBIQUITY (which is the only phenomenon under which 2-year-olds have considerable access to it), there simply *CANNOT* be a great deal of study behind Rhys’ claims. There just hasn’t been enough time.

  6. Zeke Mulcaghey says:

    I have seen seminary graduate students play video games during class lectures. Truly incredible.

  7. Lori says:

    This is a hard one for me, as a college composition teacher. I don’t like laptops in the classroom; far too often students end up on Facebook or surfing the web instead of listening. (One time, I was teaching an evening class in a computer lab on a night when our city’s baseball team was in the World Series. I had a student ask me, completely sincerely, if we could just project the game onto the overhead in the background, kind of like a sports bar.)

    But, a lot of students are simply not used to composing by hand, and if you are used to composing with a keyboard, that’s a hard, frustrating change. I know that I didn’t make the change from hand-composing drafts to keyboard composing them until I was in my 20s in grad school, but once I made the change, it was extremely hard to go back to composing long hand. I’ve realized that asking my students to hand-compose short essays or even just paragraphs is, for many of them, asking them to do something they haven’t done since they were in early elementary school, and so is asking them to perform what is a physically frustrating task on top of one that should be intellectually challenging. So I do generally allow laptops for composing but, since I rarely lecture, they are not allowed at other times during class. There’s no reason to have a laptop out during a class discussion. (Phones have largely made this a moot issue, though, as students are much more likely to be watching YouTube videos and updating their status on their phones than on a laptop.)

    The other note-taking issue I’ve found is that the ubiquity of Powerpoint means that very few students take notes at all. Professors are encouraged and even expected, in many settings, to provide their Powerpoint slides online and even to record and post full audio lectures along with the slides. I find that very few students know how to take notes. I’m not saying that posting full lectures or using Powerpoint is a bad thing–I can see many benefits–but I do think that there’s a lot of use in learning how to discern what the most important points in a reading or lecture are, and note-taking trains you in that.

  8. Melody says:

    Doesn’t surprise me that taking notes by hand makes them easier to remember. I work for a publishing company and often type up entire stories without remembering anything about them.

  9. John says:

    During my doctoral work I was a teaching assistant at a large evangelical seminary. One summer I attended an MDiv level block-format course just for personal enrichment. The students did not know who I was or that I would be the one grading their papers, etc.

    Each day I sat near the back of the lecture hall and watched as the majority of students who had laptops played games. Many of them played solitaire or something similar. One guy who sat near me played a warfare-type game everyday for the entire class period. On the last day of class I mentioned to him that I wasn’t taking the final exam because I would be grading it. He was rather mortified.

  10. Michial says:

    Totally disagree. Yes there are more possible distractions but with discipline one can retain just as much by typing as by writing. One can always garner a study here and there that agrees with their view. I can retain just as much whether I write or type. I think its better to keep this in the realm of preference than fact. Some people learn better via certain means. I love having all of my dated notes in folder and filed in an order fashion in my documents. I can cut and paste for presentation and papers quite easily.

  11. If anything, ban PC laptops. When I was at Gordon-Conwell I had difficulty hearing the lecture over the cacophony of PC-keyboard typing.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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