If you’ve been in a college classroom in the last five years, you’ve more than likely seen it before: a student sits down for the lecture, opens their laptop, and… logs into Facebook. 20 minutes later, they still haven’t opened their notes; now they’re watching a Youtube video of a fat kid attempting a backflip and failing miserably. A few people around them chuckle in unison. Microeconomics is no match for the power of the Internet!
Many professors have been frustrated by this trend of distraction, and have opted to ban laptop use in classrooms in order to maintain order and focus. Unfortunately, this also means repercussions for students who use their laptops to take notes or look up context for lecture material. One educator, however, went a different route. At York University in Toronto, professor Henry Kim has begun asking students to snitch on nearby laptop users’ browsing activities when he suspects they aren’t on task.
“There’s not an ounce of scientific evidence that students can actually multi-task and learn,” argued Kim, who is not against technology in learning… “but our addiction to technology is like a powerful drug…”
“It’s not meant to be punitive — it’s almost like a thought experiment, and the whole point is to create a new social norm in my class,” said Kim, “where using the laptop in distracting ways is embarrassing not just for you, but for other students who may be asked to report on you.”
This method strikes an interesting balance between allowing technology in the classroom and controlling its use, and creates new questions about the nature of privacy in educational settings. No professor could get away with asking students to read aloud the content of other students’ notebooks or describe their doodles, but would certainly call someone out for reading a magazine during class; does the new highly-connected medium mean that students forfeit the right to content privacy? Though perusing Facebook, Pinterest, and Youtube during class is absolutely rude to the professor and potentially distracting to nearby students, I’m not sure it’s worth the interruption and humiliation created by asking one student what another is doing with their class time.
A better method, I think, would be to divide class seating between laptop users and non-laptop users, or suggest that students move away from those by whom they may be distracted. Because the real problem here isn’t what students are doing with their time- if they want to waste it, that’s their business- but the way it affects the learning environment. Either way, policing methods are at least better than the alternative of banning laptops altogether, a practice which is both archaic and impractical.