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The Dialogue


Should students be allowed to bring laptops to the classroom?


these computer-savvy students are in the forefront of a learning revolution.

Brad Reed

Distractions—passing notes, staring out windows, even spring— have always been available to college students. Laptops and other gadgetry are only the latest distraction, and it is understandable that in the interest of classroom discipline, teachers might want to bar them at the door. But to do so may be to turn aside the seeds of rethinking education for the next decade.

Aggressive adopters of information technology are the forward scouts of the communications revolution sweeping over schools, the workplace, and the social scene. Far from being isolated loners, aggressive adopters are deeply social learners. In my Internet Technologies classroom, these "misfits" create networks of learners to reinforce and complement their strengths in learning styles, knowledge, and talents. They are collaborative, iterative, fast-cycling learners.

"Sure," you say, "in the college setting in a technical field, that's only natural." But the idea extends beyond merely using the tools. These students are learning in ways that few predicted and even fewer teachers are prepared to facilitate.

Aggressive adopters generally disdain fact-based learning as a rote, pointless activity. Why, they ask, do I have to memorize what I can Google? I don't have a good answer for that. On the other hand, they are learning to construct learning networks, to use vast stores of online information in a context-rich, relevant experience. These experiences appeal to their non-technical peers as well.

Aggressive adopters become a focus for connected learning, and in their practice, show other students, and us, their teachers, what is possible.

Brad Reed, an assistant professor of internet technologies at Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio, is the Ohio Association of Two-Year Colleges 2006-07 Teacher of the Year. He is chair of the college's academic senate, and president of the Botkins School District Board of Education.


laptops are not only a distraction to those using them but to the computerless as well.

Thom Curtis

Last fall, I was called upon to teach a large section of our introductory sociology class for the first time in years. Almost immediately, I was struck by the walls of laptop screens stretching across the risers of the lecture hall. About half of the students were busily typing away.

My assumption that the students were using their machines to take notes was shattered a couple weeks later when during a break I walked to the top of the classroom and looked across the hall from the rear. On most of the students' screens were games, chats, e-mail, and videos. I even sat down in an empty seat in the back row next to a student playing a video game. He was oblivious of my presence until other students sitting around us began to laugh.

Later, I talked with the class about my observations. I was regaled with stories about their abilities to multitask. Interestingly, none of the computerless students spoke up during the discussion. After class was a different story. Student after student approached me to report how distracting it was to have classmates all around them “multitasking” on games, chats and music videos. They were having similar experiences in every class they were taking and their levels of frustration were rising because teachers didn't seem to care.

My eyes were opened that day by what I saw from the rear of the lecture hall and the stories that I heard from frustrated students. I established a row in the front of the class for students who needed or desired to use laptops for taking notes and banned computers from the rest of the lecture hall. There were a few groans from students initially, but no substantive complaints after the first day. However, there are few things that I have done in class over the years that have earned more positive comments.

Thom Curtis, is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where he has taught since 1995. His research and much of his teaching has focused on disaster sociology and counterterrorism.

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