Response to “Leave Your Laptops at the Door of My Classroom”

The reading from the New York Times, “Leave Your Laptops at the Door of My Classroom”, was adamantly against allowing students to use laptops during class. I have had professors in the past who feel the same, and have “no electronics” policies. As someone who uses their laptop in class to take notes exclusively, I have many problems with these policies.

I have always had an extreme amount of trouble with two things in school: paying attention in class, and keeping my class-related materials organized. Throughout high school, we were not allowed to have any sort of electronics in class. It was an eternal battle between the teacher and the student; the students would hide their phones behind books, under tables, in hoodies, etc., and the teachers would constantly walk and scan the room to see who they could catch in the act. Then, the teacher would make a big example out of the person they caught with their phone, and class would be held up for several minutes while the teacher took the phone and lectured the class on their “no-electronics” policy and what the consequences were when they caught someone using their phone. From personal observation, this had two effects: it wasted class time,  and it made the students find new and exciting ways to use their phones during class. It did not increase focus or decrease electronics use during class.

Because of these “no electronics” policies, the students were, however, forced to make a choice between handwriting notes, or taking no notes at all. This is where my second problem came in. If I took notes, after class, they would be shoved into the front of my binder or backpack, mixed in with all of my other classes’ notes and materials, and midway through the semester, I had essentially a ream’s worth of notes and handouts in a jumbled stack. Then I would go through it all trying to remember what was important, end up throwing half of what I needed away, and, bottom-line, not have what I needed to study. If I opted instead to not take notes, I would not have a stack of papers to go through, and, bottom-line, I would not have what I needed to study. So, I generally chose this option since the end result was the same. No matter what I tried, whether it was files, fancy binders, dividers, or “focusing really hard on being organized” as teachers and parents would tell me to do, I was hopelessly disorganized with paper.

When I went to college, one thing changed: we were allowed to have laptops in class. At the time, I generally hated computers and had never taken notes using a laptop. However, given the fresh start and new policies, I figured I would give it a try. Slowly, I began to realize how much easier it was for me to be organized on my computer. Suddenly I could find the notes I took during class quickly and use them to study later on, so I started paying attention and taking notes. I could search for things I didn’t know the exact location of. Everything had its place; it was almost magical. After this, I was set. I was a much better student, because I had finally found a system that worked for me. Then, one day, I entered a classroom on the first day of the semester and saw “NO CELL PHONES OR LAPTOPS” written on the whiteboard at the front of the room.

I tried, I really did. For the first few weeks of the semester, I reasoned with myself, saying “filing paper in paper files is no different than putting everything in files on a computer.” However, I became more and more disorganized to the point where I eventually stopped taking notes and stopped paying attention. I had regressed back to my high school self. As I looked around, it seemed others had too. True, the no-laptops policy had gotten students to leave their laptops at home. In place, there were phones behind books, under tables, and in hoodies, and class time was wasted when someone was caught with a phone.

I understand that some get distracted with electronics in classrooms, and that is a problem. I understand the problem well. I used to get distracted all the time for the opposite reason. However, the difference is that I worked until I found a solution for my problem. It is a solution that works well for me and many other students I have known. However, when a teacher makes a “no electronics” policy, it takes away that option for students like me, and hurts our learning potential. Who decided that those other students’ problem was more important than mine?

The truth is, the difference comes down to the level of care and determination the student has to fix their own problems. I had a problem, and I found a solution that worked for me. I cared enough about my education that I put in that work. For a teacher to come along and mandate that I cannot practice my solution because they are trying to force other students to fix theirs, it is problematic for me. As I pointed out before, from personal experience, these policies do not effect most people who just don’t care to begin with. It just forces them to be sneakier.

I think a big contributing problem is the “this is the way it has always been done” mentality. Many teachers believe that since they didn’t take notes on laptops when they were in school, and they found ways to deal with it, that we should too. However, it is 2020, and electronics are not going away. And while I do believe hard work, care, and determination from the students is required to overcome their own problems, the solution(s) to the problem do not involve forcing all students to remain in the previous century. The solution(s) involve finding ways to help students care more about the subject matter and their education. Regardless of policies, students are always going to be distracted by electronics. The choice teachers have to make is whether they will allow the students that put in the work to solve their own problems to succeed, or force them to remain in mediocrity.

2 Replies to “Response to “Leave Your Laptops at the Door of My Classroom””

  1. This was an incredible blog post! I did not actually get around to reading this article, but I found your story very compelling. Having grown up largely without laptops interfering with my educator, I still experience some internal tugging when it comes to their presence in the classroom now. However, being someone who alternates being taking notes on my laptop (especially in this day and age) and hand written notes – I do empathize with those who remember their learning and material more potently if typed on their laptop. I cannot imagine your best way of harnessing your learning and education being stripped from you… how debilitating, frustrating and disheartening. Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. Hi Austin, thank you for your willingness to share your struggles and self-discoveries with us. I think that we as educators have to think very carefully about our classroom management policies and be sensitive to the fact that we are here to facilitate student learning, not to police how our students learn. I like what you said about our job being to find ways to keep our students interested: “The solution(s) involve finding ways to help students care more about the subject matter and their education. ” I think that is spot on. If our students are not paying attention to us, I think it’s an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and ask ourselves what it is that we can change to increase student engagement.

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