Thursday, March 1, 2012

Professors, students have ‘love-hate relationship’ with computers in classroom

Policy on modern technology usage varies from class to class

By Nick Neely, News Reporter

For Pacific Lutheran professors, laptops in the classroom can be bittersweet.

With e-books and Sakai replacing most print media, more computers find their way into classrooms – if professors allow them. It’s a point of contention whether laptops in class help or hinder students in the learning processes.

”I find that the students who use computers do better than those who don’t,” Professor of Geosciences Steve Benham said. Benham said he has seen laptop use in his class triple in the past last year.

“They’re more engaged in the class because they’re actually taking notes,” Benham said.

Associate Professor of Social Work JoDee Keller disagrees.

“I haven’t prohibited them outright, but I’m not crazy about them because I don’t think students are using them to take notes,” Keller said. “If I have a whole row of them [students] and they’re typing a lot during a general discussion, I know they’re not with us.”

Keller only allows computers to be used during certain parts of the class. Other teachers restrict computer use in their classes as well.

“I have a pretty strict policy about them not being connected to the Internet,” Professor of Philosophy Sergia Hay said.

While Hay allows students to use computers for takings notes, she said there is something intrinsically different about taking notes by hand. More time and care are required in note taking. Hay said this enables students to better process information.

First-year Allie Tuttle agrees.

“Writing down things helps you memorize more,” Tuttle said.

Most professors interviewed were concerned about computers’ effects on other students.

“I get sidetracked looking at Facebook on other people’s computers,” first-year Nichele Bunch said.

Professor of Sociology Laura McCloud allows tablets in her lower-level classes, but bans computers. She said she believes tablets are less distracting to students in the vicinity.

“I have a love-hate relationship with them,” McCloud said. “Upper-level classes are more invested in learning the subject and more often use the computer correctly.”

Chair of Anthropology Laura Klein said she has two professors in her classes: one professor leading the class and one who remains at the back of the room, ensuring students don’t abuse computer use in class. However, Klein said she supports computer use in class overall.

“I think so many people are used to using computers that it’s just natural for them to take notes in that fashion, and it’s an easier way to do things,” Klein said.

Chair of Environmental Studies William Teska said he noticed one student constantly using the computer inappropriately in one of his smaller classes.

“I continued letting him [the student] use the computer incorrectly and he continued to fail the class,” Teska said. “At some point, someone is an adult and you have to let them decide what they want to do.”

Teska said students have difficulty copying diagrams and pictures from the board onto their laptops. Most students in his class eventually stop using a computer, Teska said.

Assistant Professor of Communication Amy Young has similar protocol for inattentive students.

“If I feel like you’re really off task, and it’s becoming a distraction to you and to other people, I will ask for you to email me your notes on the spot,” Amy Young said.

After that, Young said, students do not repeat their misuse.