As wireless Internet connections and electronic note-taking grow more common on college campuses, some students and faculty are starting to debate their benefits.
Various universities have gradually made the switch to wireless access. Dartmouth College was among the first schools to provide its students with campus-wide wireless internet service last year, earning a 4th-place ranking in Intel’s 2005 “Most Unwired College Campuses” survey.
Other colleges have been moving in the same direction, including George Washington University, which features many wireless buildings. Moreover, the university’s newest building, Duques Hall, includes numerous high tech classrooms and computer labs.
Many laptop-loving students say wireless internet provides them with the ability to view what professors post on Blackboard, a website used by universities that allow professors to put class information such as syllabuses and readings online
“It really helps me to be able to pull up the outlines professors are using and allows me to type notes in the margins,” said Cate Doyle, a sophomore at GW. “It’s much more efficient for time and organization.I would definitely think that it would be very useful to have all the information for all classes on Blackboard and to be able to access it from anywhere on campus.”
Doyle said she often brings her laptop to class with her to take notes electronically instead of using the traditional pen-and-paper method, which she says is both quicker and more efficient.
“When I handwrite them, I can either pay attention to taking good notes or to what the teacher is saying, but it is really difficult to do both,” Doyle said. “When I have a laptop I can type notes much more quickly that I could handwrite them and thus take better notes and pay more attention.”
However, other students say laptops in the classroom are simply more trouble than they’re worth. Princeton sophomore Elizabeth Washburn said that bringing her laptop to class seems unnecessary.
“I never use a laptop in class mostly because I’d have to carry it around all day. [it] would be quite a hassle on a regular basis,” Washburn said. “Since I take written notes on all but the rarest occasions, it forces me to both listen and synthesize for the more important points.”
In other instances, wireless internet in the classroom has been a distraction. Earlier this month, University of Oregon chemistry professor Paul Engelking filed a notice for a motion to remove wireless Internet from the university’s classrooms after noticing his students were playing online poker in class. The request was later withdrawn.
Even those who see the value in bringing their computers to class admit that it can be tempting to pay more attention to their screen than to their professors.
“My computer is my main distraction,” Doyle said. “Even if it doesn’t have Internet, if I’m not in the mood to pay attention for whatever reason, there are endless supplies of games.”
However, others disagree. George Washington University political science professor Chad Rector said that in his experience, the benefits of having access to the internet in class outweigh the negatives.
“Students can look up things online outside of class just as easily as they can in class,” Rector said. “It seems to me that wise students will therefore divide their time so they listen to me when they are in lecture and surf the web when they are not in lecture.”