Using Laptops in Class

By Dr. Angus Munro

Laptop and similar computers are increasingly being used in everyday life. Whilst they can generally be considered to be beneficial for an individual’s work, there is growing evidence elsewhere that the use of laptops by a subset of students in class is not conducive to their education, leading some lecturers to ban their use during lessons.

There are several practical reasons behind imposing such a ban.

  1. It is more restrictive than traditional pen and paper for proper note-taking, because of problems with drawing proper diagrams, etc., as well as flow-charts to capture what the faculty is saying in as few words as possible: the user is not getting the opportunity to develop a solid soft skill.
  2. It distracts the user, because they are checking e-mail, etc.: basic psychology confirms common sense that ‘multi-tasking’ just means doing several things at once, but doing none of them very well.
  3. It distracts neighbouring students through the sound of key-clicks and through watching what the user is doing.
  4. It may also impede interactions with others in e.g. classroom discussions.

Predictably, others have sought to argue against any such ban.

  1. Some have argued that it is the instructor’s fault for being boring; but that’s life – learning to be positive and trying to make the most of something is an essential soft skill for adults (it is different with young children).
  2. Some (in the US) have used the false analogy that students are “customers” : UC does not sell degrees and we need to maintain minimum standards to remain credible, not compromise them to get higher enrollments where this means that there is a lack of any serious commitment to active study by the extra intake, and thus to the University’s endeavours to achieve its motto of ‘In pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and building tomorrow’s leaders.’
  3. Some have observed that it is possible to design courses which take advantage of students with laptops: but what about those who cannot afford them?

UC does not have a policy on the use of laptops in class, but we will support faculty who want to enforce a ban with good reasons. Even if a member of faculty does allow the use of laptops (note that the use of iPads, iPhones and other handphones, is banned in class at UC), students should actively consider whether, by using one, they are helping or hindering themselves in trying to get the most out of a class. If they do decide to continue to use a laptop, they should sit together at the back of the class to minimise distraction for others (including those sitting in to do peer evaluations).

e.g. Laptops vs. learning (; Banning Laptops in Classrooms: Can students multitask effectively? (http://tinyurl.
com/38sa2pg); Using laptops for notes (; US unplugged: manifold benefi ts of disconnected learning (http://;
e.g. Banning Laptops in Classrooms (
e.g. Profs Should Rethink Banning Laptops from Lecture Halls (
e.g. Miracle or Menace: Teaching and Learning with Laptop Computers in the Classroom (
We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint ( (a pdf fi le)
The use and abuse of PowerPoint in Teaching and Learning in Life Sciences (; 10 things you should know about
PowerPoint abuse (//; Five Crimes Against PowerPoint (//; Powerpoint is Evil (//;
also // and //