The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

HARTE: Laptop bans benefit learning environment


If you walk into a classroom and notice all the students are taking notes with a pencil and notebook, you may feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Instead, you’re likely experiencing an apparent growing trend among Marquette professors, who are banning the use of laptops and other electronic devices during class. While students may be frustrated by instructors controlling their electronic use, these policies are looking out for their best interests.

A major reason for an electronics ban is the potential for laptops to act as distractions from lecture material. Most people think they’re great multitaskers and that they can check Twitter while still actively listening to a lecture. However, research is not on their side. Electronic device use during class leads to lower long-term retention rates of lecture material and lower exam scores, according to a recent study at Rutgers University.

Social media is a main form of distraction for students during class. Almost 41 percent of college-age students use social media for at least six hours each week, based on a 2016 survey by the University of California, Los Angeles. Students may feel a fear of missing out on the trending posts of the day, which encroaches on their abilities to pay attention during lecture.

Some students have legitimate reasons for preferring a laptop for note taking. Many people can type faster than they can write, which allows them to transcribe more information. However, even students who diligently type out notes without distraction are putting themselves at a disadvantage when compared to taking notes with pencil and paper.

Laptop notetakers’ fast typing abilities often allow them to take down the lecture material verbatim. Students taking notes by hand aren’t able to write fast enough to take down the same amount of material, so they’re forced to summarize and reframe information in their own words. The increased mental processing required to synthesize the lecture leads to deeper learning of the material, according to a 2014 study from the Association for Psychological Science.

Another argument in favor of allowing laptops in class is that students can decide for themselves how to utilize their class time. If a student wants to take a mental break from class to check the internet, that’s his or her choice. But laptops don’t just harm the performance of the student using the device. 

Laptop use also harms surrounding students, who may become more invested in the baseball game on their classmate’s laptop than the lecture material. A 2013 study from York University showed that students who could see the screen of a multitasking student’s laptop scored 17 percent lower on a comprehension test than those with no distracting view.

In addition to looking out for their students’ learning interests, professors may institute technology bans because it’s irritating to teach students who are not engaged in the lecture. The lecture material is unlikely to compete with the entertainment value students get from online shopping or text messaging, no matter how interesting it is. Professors may become disinclined to help a student who is struggling in the course if he or she spends most of class time on social media.  

The next time you hear a professor say that electronics are banned in their classroom, don’t protest too much. You may be thankful after a semester of distraction-free learning and improved grades.  

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    Elizabeth WawrzyniakOct 11, 2018 at 11:57 am

    I wonder if you, or these professors, have considered the ADA implications of such a ban.