Laptops in the Socratic Classroom: Part Two
The Adverse Effects of Laptops in the Socratic classroom
I blogged quite some time ago about the adverse effects of student laptop use in the Socratic classroom. The issue arose again recently when a colleague became concerned about this problem and asked the rest of the faculty for their thoughts and experiences.
I. Here is how I responded initially in an email:
“Bravo! It’s getting worse and worse: passive students taking
dictation, no eye contact, and even a half dozen of my con law
students continuing to type while engaged in conversation with me this
past semester. Unbelievable! Virtually impossible to have discussion
and any kind of classroom analysis.
“Please check out my blog post on laptops ( search “laptops”) from
several years ago and feel free to contact me privately about my
experiences with laptop bans.
“Good luck. If you do it, there will be pushback from all quarters.”
There were various responses. One was that laptops are ubiquitous and professors just had to adjust. Another was that banning laptops sends an anti-technology message. Another, especially concerned with internet use during classes, proposed certain rules about such use.
II. Here is how I responded to these arguments in a subsequent email.
1. You are not anti-technology just because you are seriously concerned with the adverse effects of laptops in the Socratic classroom. The message we should really be sending is that the education of our students is paramount.
2. If you primarily use the lecture method, then you have no problem with a sea of students taking dictation. If you use the discussion method, then you may.
3. There may be a split on the faculty about educational philosophy. My guess is that if you believe that students should decide whether and to what extent to participate in their education, that’s their decision. A kind of laissez faire approach. If you believe that the discussion method is perhaps the best way for students to learn how to think, and you also believe that professors know better than students about pedagogy and effective learning, then you may decide that limiting laptops makes some sense. A kind of interventionist approach.
4. The misuse of laptops hurts the better students because the classroom discussions are lacking. It hurts the poor students by reinforcing their poor learning habit of passivity. The research that I’ve looked at (admittedly casually) supports these observations.
5. One possible way around these problems is to do what I am told is done at Yale. One student per class meeting is assigned the role of taking dictation and distributing the notes to classmates. The student is chosen either by other students or by the professor from volunteers on a rotating basis.”
III. Academic freedom and bottom-up decision-making