Professors limit laptop use in classes

Facebook, video-chatting and instant messaging may soon be a thing of the past – at least in some GW classrooms.

A growing number of professors are banning or restricting the use of laptop computers in their classrooms in an attempt to get students to pay attention and engage in classroom discussions.

“It’s a question of intentional decision-making about what creates the best learning environment for all the students in a given class, rather than just assuming that the presence of laptops automatically improves that environment,” said Kerric Harvey, a professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs, who restricts laptop use in her research methods class. “That’s not at all the same thing as a ‘ban.’ “

While laptops make it easier for some students to take notes, others contend that they understand why professors have begun to institute these policies.

Sophomore Joe Goldman, a student in Harvey’s research methods class this semester, said he does not mind that his professor bans laptops in his class.

“I find the use of a computer to be terribly distracting. I already have a BlackBerry, if I had a computer in class I’d literally be staring at a screen all day,” he said.

Phil Wirtz, a professor in the School of Business and chair of the research and instructional technology committee in the Faculty Senate, said there is nothing in the University faculty code that would prohibit the professors from instituting a ban.

“Students pay a lot of money to attend this institution, but I’m sure it’s no one’s intent that people should be throwing that money way,” Wirtz said. “If lectures are being compromised, it’s not in anyone’s best interest to use them.”

Wirtz said he would not be in favor of a universal policy to ban laptops, but said it would be “equally inappropriate” to not allow professors to do so.

Georgetown Law professor David Cole said 80 percent of his students who were anonymously surveyed reported that they are more engaged in class discussion when they are laptop-free, 70 percent said that they liked the no-laptop policy, and 95 percent admitted that they use their laptops in class for “purposes other than taking notes.”

GW professor Tapan Nayak also said he has banned laptops in his statistics courses.

“In the past, some of my students were using laptops to do other things, checking e-mail, surfing the Internet,” Nayak said. “For my class it is not necessary or that helpful to use a laptop.”

“In general I’d say that laptops are kind of like a double-edged sword in the classroom. We are only using what is given to us, but we all know what people are going to do in the classroom and that’s not pay attention,” said Zach Hanover, a student in SMPA professor Carole Bell’s class. Bell has also banned laptops in her class.

Hanover added that he does not think that laptop use in his class with Bell would be beneficial given the nature of the material.

The issue has already been addressed at other major universities across the country over the past year, including Georgetown, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, the University of Memphis and the University of Oregon.

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