Laptops in class: useful or irritating?

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For every boring lecturer, there's a bored student. And for every bored student, there are four options. Sleeping, doodling, chatting with your neighbour about just how bored you are or fooling around on your laptop. The first two are harmless and all parties remain happy. The third leaves the rest of the class scowling and growling at you, while the last invokes plenty of different reactions that range from outright anger, to amusement or even glee. Yet how different people take the issue of misuse of laptops in class might just leave you with a hastily made ban.

There are two types of laptop owners: those who come to class to type up notes and notes only, and those who come to class for the sake of coming and choose to have fun on the web.

These two types of people call for two types of reactions.

Students who know they will not be paying much attention to classes should kindly take a seat in the back row or close to it. This clusters the bored and potentially distracting students together and away from others who may want to concentrate.

Repeated complaints from concerned students have compelled some professors to force laptop using students take seats near the back. This is a legitimate request as students wishing to utilize and make the best of classes, lectures and presentations should not have to suffer the distracting glares of colour-popping screens around them.

On the other hand, having laptops in class can be beneficial. Answers to random pieces of trivia that may arise in some discussions can be found, files and postings regarding assignments can be accessed freely and laptops make note taking easy. And you might be able to make up for the five minutes of day dreaming you just wasted by looking over to your neighbour's screen. It is at these times that angels sing songs of praise for technology.

However, not everyone on campus can be pleased. Banning laptops and wireless internet has become a trend for many institutions these days and some allow professors to ban wireless Internet within their classes if they so choose. A poll done in Harvard's Law School revealed that a third of students don't support a laptop ban and one out of four stated they would not attend class if a ban carried through. According to a Boston.com article, Harvard professors said that students are not able to concentrate in class if they are constantly checking their e-mail and messaging their friends. True enough, but students pay for their education and lectures, not advice and judgements from their professors.

Clearly banning the use of laptops or even wireless Internet is not the solution to minimizing class distractions. What the article leaves the reader thinking about is whether or not our school is heading in the same direction. If the number of complaints about misuse of laptops continues to soar, for all we know, the ban might be considered right here at the U of C. The sole determinant of whether laptops become more restricted or completely banned in classes is their responsible use by students who keep administrators from changing their minds.