Dr. Stephen Von Wyrick doesn't mind if students bring laptops to class, as long as they sign an agreement promising not to check Facebook or watch YouTube videos during his lectures. Von Wyrick, a professor of Christian studies at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, in Belton, Texas, has had students try to do both.
"I give the students guidelines to their laptop use, but few take it," Von Wyrick said. "In my classes, students are on-task because they know of my policy. When students sit in class watching movies or whatever else they do, they miss out on a wonderful educational opportunity. They are paying to learn, so I believe I should give them an environment to do so."
Both students and professors depend on technology and wireless communication in their daily and academic lives. Most classrooms contain projectors, computers, laser pointers, viewing screens and other electronic teaching tools. But instructors who ask their students to depend solely on pen and paper, say too many students use technology as a distraction. Although they know students and their computers are inseparable just about everywhere else, some professors are severing those ties in the classroom.
Kari Kolodzie, a professor of English at Blinn College, in Bryan, Texas, treats laptops as entertainment devices under the school's cellphone and entertainment technology policy. Under the policy, students must stash all entertainment devices, including cellphones and iPods, during class. Too many students treat their computers more like entertainment than note-taking devices, Kolodzie said.
"I believe that laptops can be distracting to both their users and to others in the classroom," she said. "Furthermore, it would be difficult to enforce a 'laptops only for note-taking' policy, since it would be nearly impossible to check students' screens throughout the class period."
Von Wyrick believes that taking hand-written notes keeps his students responsible for themselves, which prepares them for the future. Using a pen and paper is more about learning to pay attention and cut out distractions. It also teaches them how to function if they find themselves stranded without technology, he said.
Jasmine Simmons, a sophomore journalism major in Von Wyrick's class, said that no student in her class opted to sign the agreement that allows them to bring a computer to class. Without the pros of Internet access and social media, the students saw no use for their computers in the classroom.
"The policy prevented students from totally neglecting lectures because we had to pay attention at least some of the time," Simmons said. "I learned that I take better hand-written notes… not being able to use a laptop in class was not a major issue for me."
Dr. Steve Armstrong, a professor of mathematics at LeTourneau University, in Longview, Texas, prefers the traditional approach to taking notes because of his previous experience with students and technology. Although some use computers to enhance their classroom learning, others use them to check out of a lecture. One of Armstrong's students sat in the back row and spent class time watching videos. Predictably, that student failed the class. But another student who sat in the front row and took notes on her iPad paid attention and did well.
"Technology can be helpful when used correctly, so I tend to allow the use of computers when the class is more mature, wanting to learn," he said. "I'll allow students to have their laptops open and on until I see them abuse this privilege."
Although students might be used to multitasking-checking email and Facebook while studying or listening to music while reading-the classroom environment should be different, Kolodzie said: "We are all surrounded by technology and are used to typing and looking at screens all day. A change of pace in the classroom may help set apart and elevate the environment as special or unique, helping students remember the activities done in class."
Professors who prefer students use pen and paper in the classroom aren't clinging to what some students might view as archaic practices because they are nostalgic for the past. They want to make sure their students have the best possible learning environment, and that doesn't always include technology, Von Wyrick said: "The real reason for preventing laptops is for students to succeed."