New policy would define classroom laptop etiquette

Regents will consider the drawbacks and benefits of laptop use in classroom settings.

Elizabeth Cook

Laptops are everywhere: at home, in classrooms, even outdoors. But some professors and students don’t willingly accept their constant presence.

University junior John Rudi said he needs his laptop in classes.

“For me, I can type faster than I can write,” he said.

Not all professors are willing to let students use laptops during class, said Nathan Wanderman, student representative to the University Board of Regents.

At its Friday meeting, Wanderman asked the Board to create guidelines for laptop use in class. He said he’s hoping to formalize laptop rules that now differ by class and professor.

“This can create a lot of challenges for students as they try and figure out what patterns of note taking to use and what to bring with them to classes,” Wanderman said.

Rudi said he’s never had a professor ban laptop use in the classroom and would have a problem if one did.

“It’s an efficiency issue,” he said.

Gary Schwitzer, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, banned laptops in his larger classes for the first time this semester after students complained of being distracted by others who were checking their e-mail or surfing the web, he said.

“I just don’t want to have myself or the (teaching assistants) in a situation where we have to be walking the aisles seeing how laptops are being used,” he said.

Although the ban has helped eliminate distractions, Schwitzer said, he feels bad about it, since laptops can be a great note-taking tool.

In smaller classes, where students sit in a circle, he has not banned the use of laptops.

“If somebody wants to waste their time surfing or doing e-mail not related to the course, they’re making a personal choice,” Schwitzer said. “But at least they’re not distracting or harming somebody else.”

Marketing senior Paula Pazos said she’s sometimes annoyed by people typing in class. She said she’s old-fashioned and, though she owns a laptop, she takes notes by hand.

“I understand the professor’s decision,” Pazos said. “It could be a big source of distraction.”

Wanderman said guidelines should be created so “a student can better justify their use of a laptop in a classroom if the teacher has some concerns.”

Regent Steven Hunter said clear expectations need to be set for students.

He said it would make sense to allow laptops in classrooms for note taking.

Regents will discuss the issue and talk with University administrators to find a solution, Hunter said.

“(We will) involve faculty and students in that discussion,” he said.

Some professors said they find laptops useful for classroom discussion.

English professor Maria Damon said she always allows laptops in her classes.

It’s easy to tell what students are using their computers for, she said.

“If their clicks seem to be in line with anything you’re saying or if they’re actually writing or kind of just clicking to link from thing to thing,” she said. “You can tell if someone is taking notes or if someone is just cruising the web.”

Laptops also sometimes aid Damon’s lectures, she said.

“Someone will have a laptop and I’ll mention something but I’ll say I’m not really sure when that book was published,” she said, “Ö they’ll just look it up for me and they’ll be able to contribute that piece of information.”

First-year marketing student Pa Nhia Vang said she doesn’t use a laptop, but isn’t bothered by those who do.

She said she can see other students from the back of the room checking e-mail or playing games, but doesn’t let it break her concentration.

“I can block it out,” she said. “I don’t sit there staring at their screens.”