Put your pen away and focus on your laptop!

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As students in university we are all aware of some of the requirements necessary in order to succeed in life such as we must have a computer, we must come to class prepared to take notes on our computers, we must access information necessary about our courses and be prepared…through our computers. To share a little bit about my own university learning experiences I would like to reflect upon memories that I had while transitioning from high school to university. Most of my educational memories in high school involve my textbooks sitting in my locker for 7 months and me carrying 2 giant binders around for each day that I would have certain classes. I had a pencil case and a binder with paper. That is all. My phone would be deep in my bag due to the very strict teachers with absolutely no phone tolerance. I had a desktop computer at home and would use it for English reports or any sort of reports that were strictly language oriented. In grade 10, my mom took away my beloved desktop computer and bought me an over sized Toshiba laptop. I had an okay relationship with my laptop until I reached university.

Flash forward; first day of university, I take my Five Star blue notebook to class complemented by my series of colourful pens to “encourage” me to write down lecture notes. As I walked in I was surprised at the amount of bitten apples facing the front of the class room. I may have been the only person without a computer. I went back to my residence and realized I can’t live like this. I can’t just take a notebook to class… so I took my Toshiba. I hated that Toshiba and tried my hardest to break it, and here is why. 1. It was literally the biggest computer made by the brand, 2. It had a broken battery at this point and would have to be connected to a plug at all times, and last but definitely not least, it would never, ever break. This computer was sat on, thrown, dropped and not a scratch or dent appeared (side note: you want a durable computer, you should consider a Toshiba.) By the end of the year I realized I was in dire need of a working laptop for class purposes. My lectures were all online; by not bringing a laptop to class I would be wasting hundreds of papers that would cover lecture notes and slides and run the risk of losing them. If I needed to look up definitions to things I would have to wait until I got home which is ridiculous to everyone in my generation today. And most importantly, I was insanely jealous of those who could tune out professors by going on Facebook or watching TV shows in the middle of class. If only professors were aware of what was actually occurring on the other side of that innocent bitten apple screen. (Side note: last year I saw a girl Skype-ing her boyfriend during a calculus lecture, the lecture was only 50 minutes long…)

While searching for experiments and research on the subject of technology in classrooms, more specifically laptops, I came to the realization that it is in fact a pretty controversial topic . Depending on the person, taking into consideration his/her experiences, most people have come up with their own conclusions regarding their own research done on the topic; this is because of the large amount of opinions, some that are statistically supported and some that are not, that float around the World Wide Web. I tried searching the pros and the cons of this, not considering my personal side of the arguments and keeping completely neutral. I found a series of articles that prove, statistically, how the existence of laptops in classrooms benefit students and professors/teachers alike, however I also came across articles that find laptops in classrooms to be distracting leading to lower grades than those who do not bring laptops to classrooms and lectures. Keeping impartial I would like to discuss a series of these opinions and research that have been conducted.

Technology use in class is beneficial

A re-occurring argument for the benefits of laptop use in classrooms is the reduction in time that is originally spent by students and teachers. Most students are faster type-rs than they are writers. By using laptops they are more likely to speed through the recording of important lecture points and would be less likely to disregard key information given by teachers or professors. Providing technology also assists in creating an interactive environment. My experience during my accounting class is a great example of this. During my class our teacher introduced Top Hat Monocle. Top Hat Monocle is an interactive learning experience that occurs during lectures. After a given lesson was taught to the class our professor would “open” up a question on the Top Hat Monocle website where each student would have an account and also had a choice of connecting this account to his/her phone. Students had a choice of either texting their answer to the number connected to that course or they could simply answer the question via the website. This made life easy for many teachers and students alike. Instead of collecting notes and papers from as many as 400 students to be marked by TAs, the computer would simply complete this process. The answer would be reveled immediately after the question was closed and discussion would commence. This concept really helped the kids interact with their professor where students took an interest because they were interacting with other students in the answer process where they aimed to get the question correct. Top Hat Monocle accounted for 20% of our final grade. The fact that it held a large load of our overall mark would encourage many students to attend lectures in order to gain that 20% that could really raise their grade in the end. Getting forced to attend lectures can be very beneficial and certainly will pay off in overall grade. The use of the Internet in classrooms also increases motivation. Student satisfaction can easily increase by immediate feedback given by teachers and can also motivate students to strive to be good and to achieve better. The idea of technology in classrooms is not only relevant to university students but now many classrooms from elementary school all throughout high school have found that technology can be very beneficial and actually aid in learning. A great argument that is made is that kid in the same classroom are not all necessarily at the same level therefore different students would require a different treatment regarding learning. Studies have proven that technology in classrooms have actually helped to individualize aspects of learning to suit student’s needs. One thing that technology in classrooms has allowed is the diverse learning techniques that actually caters to students based on their educational level and capacity. The video below is a TED Talks video of Jessie Woolley-Wilson who is the inventor DreamBox Learning which is a program that allows kids of different learning levels to learn at their own pace within a classroom.

Technology in classrooms is distracting

Stanford University conducted an experiment in order to observe whether or not laptops aid or damage learning in a classroom setting. The students who participated in the study were asked to provide weekly records of attendance, laptop use and notes on the classroom environment. The results of this survey revealed that the students who used laptops in class spent a great deal of time multitasking rather than focusing on the lecture materials therefore showing a significantly higher level of distraction not only to themselves but to those around them. The use of laptops was also negatively related to a series of measures on student learning such as self-reported comprehension of the lecture material and finally overall course performance.  With solid arguments being made against laptop use in class, this has led to an increasing amount of professors across Canada and the US to ban laptop use during class. Many professors have found the results of laptop use in classrooms to be somewhat offensive of their time and efforts spent trying to teach a class. Other professors argue that if a student chooses not to listen to a certain lecture, keeping in mind that he/she is of no distraction to others, then it is their choice and they can do so. I know in my experience with having laptops in classrooms it has hindered my ability to focus and learn by a large amount. This is certainly a choice by students, however most universities and classrooms provide WiFi to classrooms and lecture halls which makes it that much harder to focus on the lectures instead of checking Facebook, Twitter, checking emails, or even a possibility that students just search up random things because they do not want to listen to lecture materials. I know I would personally rather check online shopping websites during lectures, with a belief that I can listen to the lecture and focus my eyes on the website. But the many covert distractions that come along with any type of online activity can’t be eliminated unless laptops and the mediums in which we use to access these websites are taken away. The graph below is the result of a study done  by York University that shows that the use of laptops, which require multitasking, in a classroom actually hinders learning and results in a lower final grade.

Laptop Multitasking Hinders Classroom Learning for Both Users an

My personal opinion on the matter is that technology use, specifically laptop use in classrooms heavily relies on the person. I, personally, do not have the mental capacity to sit in a lecture hall with a laptop and deny myself the access to websites. So when I started second year of university I started to just take my notebook because I was getting heavily distracted during lectures. At some point I got rid of my Facebook for a good year so I could focus on materials that are important to my education. On the other hand, I also know people who are very comfortable taking laptops to classrooms and focusing on lecture materials without allowing themselves to drift onto unnecessary websites. I highly believe that wanting to do well is a choice, with that said,  if students are aware of the negative effects of taking laptops to classrooms and having access to technology then they should, willingly, distance themselves from it and go old school. Sometimes a pen and a piece of paper can do more for your brain than an advanced technological creation.

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