Despite the large role computers play in higher education, students are restricted from using their laptops in many classes.
In an effort to hold students’ attention, some Duke professors are restricting the use of laptops in lectures. Laptops not only distract students themselves but also negatively affect other people in the class, said Emily Klein, senior associate dean at the Nicholas School of the Environment and professor of geology. Some professors have found that students have been more focused and engaged in classroom conversation when they are not using their computers during lecture.
“Not having laptops means that students can convey active engagement more easily,” Cheri Ross, professor of international comparative studies, wrote in an email Saturday. “I have noticed that there are fewer side conversations happening in class without laptops.”
Professors who have implemented the laptop ban in their classrooms said they found the change to be very effective. Ross—who has kept her classes laptop free for the past two years—decided to make this change after discovering several students in her class browsing Facebook photos instead of taking notes. Because her classes are mostly discussion-based, Ross noted that students can very easily handwrite their notes.
Laptops not only negatively affect other students in the classroom, but also do not make for a useful study tool in certain classes, she added. Klein does not allow computers in EOS 11—a graphic-intensive geology class that she teaches. Klein noted that it is easier to draw graphs on paper than with a keyboard.
Klein said she considers herself an environmentalist, noting that she feels guilty forcing students to print out class notes on paper. But she said that it is necessary given how distracted students become while using laptops.
Some students said they believe handwriting notes is a more effective way to focus and study in a class. Vincent Ding, a sophomore, said that although some students use their laptops productively in class, most people just use them as a distraction from listening to lecture. When students must take notes by hand, he said, they are forced to stay attuned to the most important points of lectures.
“When I have my laptop, I almost always get distracted by doing other things,” said sophomore Megan Steinkirchner “When I’m just writing [notes] down, I can stay focused more easily.”
Joe Liu, a sophomore, noted that he tried to multitask on his computer while in lecture to finish an assignment that was due. He was able to complete his homework, but he completely missed all the points from class.
Sayan Mukheree, associate professor of statistical science, added that in some cases, laptops are necessary given the nature of the course material. He noted, however, that students can be notified beforehand in cases when laptops are necessary.