“This year, I resolve to ban laptops from my classroom”

Columbia professor Tal Gross in the Washington Post:

Since most students can type very quickly, laptops encourage them to copy down nearly everything said in the classroom. But when students stare at the screen of their laptops, something is lost. The students shift from being intellectuals, listening to one another, to being customer-service representatives, taking down orders. Class is supposed to be a conversation, not an exercise in dictation.

This is not just vague worrying on my part. There’s now good research on the topic. Take, for instance, a recent study by two psychologists, Pam Mueller at Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer at UCLA. Mueller and Oppenheimer asked 67 undergraduates to watch videos of lectures. Half the students were randomly assigned to watch the lectures while taking notes on a laptop, while the other students were asked to watch the lectures while taking notes with paper and pen. Afterward, the students were all given an exam. The students who took notes longhand scored much higher on conceptual questions than did the students who used a laptop.

The full post is worth reading.

A couple of years ago, I had the same idea as Gross did. I also thought, “Students know this too. I bet if I raise the issue and let them vote on laptop use, they’ll wisely commit themselves to a laptop ban.”

The results? Laptops 85, Laptop ban 0.

Make that a win for “Chris’s naivete” and a loss for commitment devices.

I’m not teaching this semester, so my big decision will wait for the fall: Am I a democrat or benevolent autocrat? I have yet to decide.

Hat tips to Anna Nazarov and Claire Adida.