Corey Jacobson: Banning laptops does not ban boredom

I’ll never forget the first piece of gum I chewed in high school. For the first time in my education, school policy allowed me to chew gum in the middle of my Spanish class without getting a detention. Since that day of liberation, I have entered college and gained even more freedoms in the classroom, not the least of which is the ability to use my laptop.

That is why I was so troubled by last Thursday’s Hatchet article that discussed a trend of professors who ban laptops from their classrooms. While it is certainly disheartening for anyone in public speaking to see the audience’s attention focused elsewhere, the demonization of laptops in the classroom by some educators is as misinformed as it is misapplied.

I recently questioned the reasoning of one of my professors who had banned laptops from his classroom. His response boiled down to an educational philosophy called the “assurance of learning,” based on the notion that the learning in the classroom is far more important than the teaching. I couldn’t agree more. But oftentimes, the presence of technology – and specifically laptops – in the classroom aids learning much more than they inhibit it. Students are able to take notes more efficiently, easily stay organized and look up terms and concepts they don’t understand in real-time with the lecture. Every student learns differently, and if using a laptop helps connect ideas and complements what he or she is learning in class, teachers should be finding ways to embrace its usage.

Putting aside the belief that laptops may aid learning, the use of a laptop in the classroom is, at its absolute worst, the manifestation of boredom. Expelling laptops from the classroom merely eliminates just one of the many symptoms of boredom. This drastic action does nothing to resolve the underlying causes: ineffective teaching and the unique characteristics of a generation that grew up on technology.

In reality, the use of laptops in class is not just to goof around but to capitalize on the minutes of class students deem wasteful and uninformative. While GW families pay the University with the hope and belief it will provide quality professors, unfit educators will inevitably make their way in front of a classroom. Professors have an inherent responsibility not just to teach, but to engage their students, to cater to various learning needs and to capture their attention. No one forgets the eclectic professor played by Robin Williams in the film “Dead Poets Society,” just as I won’t forget my high school journalism teacher who once made CDs for every student in her class to creatively teach how to write a music review. In the end, the most impactful classes are the ones in which the teacher makes a concerted effort to capture and retain the students’ attention.

Obviously, engaging students of today’s generation is easier said than done, but laptops are not the primary culprit. For better or worse, our generation is addicted not just to our BlackBerrys and iPhones, but to constant stimulation. Through technology, we are always accessible and connected, processing more information than ever before and expanding the possibilities of what we can accomplish in a short amount of time. Not surprisingly, students have adapted to this lifestyle, becoming more and more adept at multitasking. For example, I’m writing this column with music on in the background and with my roommates loudly playing video games in the living room.

Admittedly, the multitasking and constant connectivity take their toll. When we’re doing 10 things at once, it’s rare that we’re doing any one of them perfectly. Our lifestyle is something of a habitual addiction, and it can be therapeutic and even healthy to be forced to focus on a single thing without the refuge of outside stimulation.

Teachers must ultimately recognize that the challenge before them is how to effectively engage their students, not on what source of stimulation to remove from the equation. The classroom will always be plagued by some degree of boredom and disinterest. No matter how many objects a professor exiles from the classroom, boredom will always find a way of manifesting itself. If laptops and cell phones are banned, students will resort to what they did before those things even existed: doodling and daydreaming.

At some point, teachers need to put enough faith in their students to trust them to chew gum responsibly – even if there’s one kid who sticks his gum on the bottom of the seat. And at some point, a professor must be engaging enough that they can trust students will not be distracted by a laptop – even if there’s one student who never gets off Facebook.

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The writer is a junior majoring in business administration.

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